The New York City Council is considering three legislative measures to enhance the city’s response and communication during emergencies such as air quality and severe weather incidents.
This initiative emerged after incidents such as the unexpected smoke from Canadian wildfires in early June and severe weather conditions like heavy rain and flooding in late September revealed gaps in the city’s preparedness.
Council Member Lincoln Restler, who is leading the initiative, expressed concerns about the confusion and lack of clear guidance faced by New Yorkers during recent emergencies, emphasizing the urgent need for change during Monday’s oversight hearing.
“New Yorkers didn’t know how to stay safe. They didn’t know where to turn for information. Some of our most vulnerable New Yorkers were left outside on the street because there was no care, there was no direction provided to them on where to go,” Restler stated.
He also pointed out the conflicting advice given to residents, calling for a more coordinated and effective approach.
The proposed legislation includes two bills mandating that New York City Emergency Management notify residents when air quality is predicted to reach unhealthy levels, specifically 150 on the air quality index.
It also requires the provision of safety guidelines to minimize exposure.
The bills call for establishing a detailed emergency response protocol, addressing the lack of sufficient information during the June air quality crisis and the September flooding incident.
Additionally, a third bill proposes the implementation of “Spare the Air” days, which would restrict activities contributing to poor air quality and mandate the opening of “clean air centers” for those in need, ensuring shelter for everyone, including those living on the streets.
Emergency management leaders have acknowledged the need for improvement and are evaluating the proposed bills.
They have been working on a plan since the June incident, striving to enhance the city’s readiness for similar emergencies in the future.
During the Canadian wildfires in June, homeless individuals were exposed to dangerously polluted air.
Shams DaBaron, a homeless advocate, voiced concerns about their plight, stating, “Those people, they don’t have a choice, and we don’t want to keep going on as if that’s okay. It’s not okay for someone to be in a cardboard box under these circumstances. This could literally be costing lives or sending people to the emergency room.”