Lights on all night at OEM, the hub of recovery from Sandy

October 31, 2012 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn OEM works to recover
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Tucked at the edge of a park in Downtown Brooklyn, the headquarters of the city’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) has been the center of non-stop activity since Hurricane Sandy hit the radar screens.

OEM, led by Commissioner Joseph F. Bruno, is the agency that is coordinating the city’s response to the massively destructive storm – from handling evacuations, to setting up emergency shelters, to deploying heavy equipment and fuel.

Inside the building’s Emergency Operations Center (EOP) on Tuesday evening, roughly 100 men and women, some in uniform, bent over computers or glanced up at wall-mounted video monitors.

Unlike the other offices and briefing rooms in the OEM building, the EOC is manned only during large-scale emergencies. Officials from city, state and federal agencies sit at workstations labeled by function, such as “Transportation.”

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“Bringing all the decision-makers together in one place makes coordinating response efforts that much easier,” OEM spokesperson Christopher Miller told the Brooklyn Eagle on Tuesday. The entire facility is networked to allow all agencies to view the same data or video at the same time. The images flickering over the large display monitors change with the situation. “They can show local flooding, the status of bridges and tunnels, or major news.”

While early on the effort involved hurricane response, “Now we’re in the process of recovery,” Miller said. “Planning, allocating resources, and making sure New Yorkers know what we are doing in conjunction with city, state and federal agencies.”

EOC has been operating 24 hours a day since Friday at 8 a.m., Miller said. Cartons of bottled water sit on shelves, and food is brought in. The OEM has set up army cots elsewhere in the building so coordinators can catch some shuteye in between shifts.

On the same floor as the EOC, but behind a large plate of glass, is the Watch Command, a 24-hour emergency notification office. Watch Command monitors radio, computer and 911 dispatches and sends out Notify NYC alerts via text, Twitter and online. “We want you to know what’s happening in your neighborhood,” Miller said.

Typical of the text alerts people received while Hurricane Sandy was sending gales force winds across the city were, “Go indoors immediately and remain inside, staying away from windows,” and “All public schools closed tomorrow.”

The building also contains a media briefing room, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and other officials have been briefing the public about the emergency –  with the participation of the Mayor’s increasingly popular sign language interpreter, Lydia Callis, who translates expressively as the Mayor speaks.

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