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Preparing For the Next Hurricane – Is Boston Overdue?

While forecasters don’t believe hurricane season this summer will be more active than normal, by many measures, Boston is overdue for a major storm.

This August marks 25 years since Hurricane Bob hit Massachusetts – the last time an active hurricane hit the state. That Category 2 storm caused $1.5 billion worth of damage nationwide ($2.6 billion in today’s dollars), including more than $680 million in damages in New England, and left millions without power.

Even in a slow year for hurricanes, it only takes one storm to cause a tremendous amount of destruction, which puts the focus on strong, experienced property management.

When a severe weather event happens, constant communication and oversight are crucial, says Mary Doyle, a Managing Director of Asset Services at Cushman & Wakefield. As a storm approaches, Cushman & Wakefield’s crisis management program mobilizes the necessary resources both to protect the properties it manages and to normalize operations once a storm has passed.

“We have regular conference calls, and staff a command center during storms to make sure that our senior management team is aware what’s happening at different locations. Members of our property management and engineering teams remain on-site to monitor and report on property conditions,” she said. “We always look to have an on-site presence to quickly address any damage as soon as it is safe to do so. If people aren’t on-site, fallen trees or other issues can hinder access to a site and prevent the immediate response required during a flooding situation or roof breach.”

While Boston has largely escaped serious hurricane damage in recent years, the same cannot be said for New York City, where Hurricane Sandy left millions without power and caused $19 billion in damages in 2012.

Jim Rosenbluth, Cushman & Wakefield’s Director of Global Security and Resilience and based in Manhattan, called time to be the most important factor.

“The key critical element is having the time to put in all the preparations,” said Rosenbluth, who said that the group began preparing for the storm five days before it hit.

Bob Sweeney, a Managing Director at Cushman and Wakefield in New York, helped staff the command center in New York during Sandy, working to arrange needed emergency generators and fuel deliveries for properties, and also getting recovery companies on the scene as soon as the storm had passed.

Sandy’s storm surge caused far more damage downtown than its strong winds, with Senior Managing Director Kevin McCann saying that in some buildings, water completely filling the sublevels destroyed electrical systems and ruptured fuel tanks.

Sweeney called the efforts of everyone in getting properties back and running in just a few weeks “extraordinary.”

In the years since the storm, many buildings in have taken steps to ensure they are better prepared in the event another severe storm hits. McCann says many buildings have improved their pumping systems, or added a damming systems to help keep water out. Still more have chosen to move electrical systems and other infrastructure out of the basement.

The damages should a storm hit Boston today would be immense.

The most recent assessment by the city put the total assessed value of residential, commercial and personal property at $128 billion, a number which has increased 45 percent during the past four years.

Most of the city, especially areas such as the Seaport, is located in higher flood risk areas in the event of a major storm.

Models completed by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration found that in a Category 1 Hurricane (marked by sustained winds of 74-95 mph) six percent of the city could be flooded. In a Category 4 storm (with 130-156 mph winds), that jumps to 30 percent.

Official hurricane season lasts from June 1 through November 30. As it continues, the focus will continue to be on preparation, so that if a storm does track for New England, everyone can avoid the issues seen with Hurricane Bob as much as possible.

 

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