Real World Example: Newtown Creek Superfund Site, Greenpoint, Brooklyn, New York

Lorraine Motola, Emergency & Disaster Management, Metropolitan College of New York


Regional threats and vulnerabilities to Greenpoint Brooklyn, New York, which sits across the East River, due east of 23rd Street and 4 miles northeast (the direction of prevailing winds) of Lower Manhattan and the Financial District, include water-based hazards such as severe weather, floods, flash flooding and coastal storms --- presented continuity challenges for an emergency response warehouse based at this location. Following the realization that a permanent relocation was necessary, a Hazard Vulnerability Analysis (HVA) occurred, used in the traditional sense, and as a tool to convince leadership to relocate. As an interim measure a Relocation & Reoccupancy Plan 2011, was developed, with the main goal of protecting assets. TableTop Exercises were also held, and mitigation measures proposed. Although the plan was successfully tested during Hurricane Irene of 2011, a decision was made to shelter the assets in place for Superstorm Sandy 2012. In the end, significant Sandy flooding destroyed all warehouse assets, therefore a permanent relocation was no longer an option.

The warehouse was in a 100 year floodplain and abutted the Newtown Creek Superfund Site, a New York - New Jersey Estuary --- where one of the worst oil spills in the United States (US), estimated at 17-30 million gallons, and the largest underground spill occurred. The spill, discovered in 1978, resulted from a 1950 ExxonMobile Explosion, with several decades of leaks from crude oil production facilities. Incidentally, another ExxonMobile spill of 50,000 gallons of oil occurred in 1990. Additionally, the creek was a busy industrial corridor from the mid-1800s to World War II and the City of New York dumped raw sewage into the creek since 1856.

There are a few hundred homes and nearly 200,000 people who reside on the creekside of Greenpoint, amongst commercial and industrial structures, a top Brownfields and Superfund sites. The proximity to the spill is also a concern when considering the potential for contaminant disturbance during a disaster such as a coastal storm.

As further confirmation of NYC's risk of flooding, especially flooding caused by coastal storms, the OECD's report "Ranking Port Cities with High Exposure and Vulnerability to Climate Extremes" ranks NYC as having the seventh largest population in the world (second in the United States) exposed to a 1-in-100 year coastal storm surge-induced flood event (in terms of 2005 population.) In terms of the economic assets exposed, NYC ranks second in the world. This report also projected future exposure under various scenarios. By the 2070s, the NYC metropolitan area will drop to the 17th largest population exposed, but will only drop one place to the third most assets exposed.

The OECD study further noted that, while NYC has a greater Gross Domestic Product than cities such as London, Tokyo, and Amsterdam, NYC is only protected to a standard "roughly" a 1-in-100-year flood, whereas the other three cities are protected at better than the 1-in -1000-year standard.

Following the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy the city has made Waterfront Revitalization a priority. "The changes will solidify New York City's leadership in the area of sustainability and climate resistance planning as one of the first cities in the US to incorporate climate change considerations into its Coastal Zone Management Program." (NYC City Planning)

Individuals with expertise/responsibilities in the following areas have helped create the case study:
  • Emergency Managers/Planners
  • COOP Planners
  • Public Administrators
  • Facility and Security Managers
  • Engineers

Key teaching points:

  • Understanding the impacts of hazards on communities
  • Embrace the value of the HVA process and related tools
  • Determine best practices for preparedness, mitigation and continuity
  • Establish redundancies, including an alternate or secondary warehouse and pre-positioning of assets
  • Discuss buy-in challenges and potential approaches

How this example is used in the classroom:
This course, Economics of Hazards and Disasters, provides a comprehensive overview of the economic aspects of hazards and disasters through a review of the concepts, analytical tools and policies that exist, to aid emergency managers, before, during and after emergencies. Each student selects a hazard from from the Sub-committee on Disaster Reduction (SDR), and a related disaster, without a published damage assessment, then uses Gross Domestic Product (GDP) data for the year prior to the disaster, year of and two subsequent years, to serve as a framework in writing their paper on the Economic Effects of the chosen disaster.


Coastal Storms from the Final Draft 2014 New York City Hazard Mitigation Plan, The New York City Office of Emergency (OEM), in partnership with the Department of City Planning (DCP)

Hazard Vulnerability Analysis and Risk Assessment, Facilitator Guide , Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

Public Health Assessment, Final Release, Newtown Creek, Prepared by The New York State Department of Health, February 24, 2014

Superfund: In the Eye of the Storm, Center for Health, Environment & Justice, June 2010

Current link:

The New York City Waterfront Revitalization Program, 2012 WRP Revisions-Presentation