On October 22, several hundred hurricane evacuees descended on Brooklyn’s New York City College of Technology. The school had been temporarily converted into an evacuation center, where refugees were screened before being sent to shelters that had been set up in two nearby Department of Education buildings. And all this occurred despite the fact that there was no hurricane anywhere near New York City this October.
The event, called Hurrex, was a field exercise hosted by the New York City Office of Emergency Management (OEM). A seven-hour ordeal in which up to 30 agencies and upwards of 800 people participated, Hurrex was the third in a series of drills designed to test the city’s Coastal Storm Plan, which aims to mitigate the detrimental effects of a major hurricane strike. Alarmingly, big hurricanes are not unknown to New York—a devastating storm made landfall most recently in 1938—and many experts cite the city’s long coastline and high population density as factors that could exacerbate the destruction posed by a similar disaster.
According to OEM spokesman Andrew Troisi, “[Hurrex is] part of a continuing series of exercises that we perform; they’re interagency exercises where OEM will coordinate the planning, but you’ll have scores of agencies participating, oftentimes numbering up to 50.”
OEM prides itself in preparing New York for serious eventualities, but that’s only one of the agency’s responsibilities. Its multi-faceted mission encompasses not only preparation for emergencies, but coordinating the City’s emergency response, directing recovery efforts, and educating the public.
World War Roots
OEM traces its history back to the Second World War, although today’s agency bears only slight resemblance to its earliest predecessors. In 1941, President Roosevelt named New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia director of the newly minted federal Office of Civil Defense (OCD). The short-lived bureau concerned itself with organizing the populace to defend itself against enemy air raids and their attendant destructive effects, chiefly fire. Lacking direction, it fizzled out in 1945.