In the wake of absolutely historic, devastating flooding of New York and its infrastructure in particular, it’s worth revisiting a piece from the New York Times: “Hurricanes on the Hudson.” A report released by the Army Corps of Engineers, it explores the potential impacts of a Category 4 hurricane on the city of New York.

When researchers with the National Weather Service, working with the Army Corps, applied the [“SLOSH”] model to New York City they discovered, to their great surprise, that the slope of the sea bed and the shape of the New York Bight, where the coasts of New York and New Jersey meet, could amplify a surge to a depth far greater than if the same surge had occurred elsewhere…

To reinforce its observations, the corps doctored photographs to show flood waters submerging the doors to the South Ferry subway station and the World Trade Center, and the entrance to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel

For anyone familiar with city landmarks, the report makes good, if macabre, reading. The peak storm surge at the Lincoln Tunnel would top 28 feet. Kennedy Airport would be submerged. Even a category 1 hurricane would flood the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and the PATH tunnels at Exchange Place and Hoboken Station in New Jersey, and launch water into the city’s subways through vents at 14th Street in Manhattan and at Montague and Joralemon Streets in Brooklyn, and many other points. [emphasis mine]

And now I direct you to a recap of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy:

Tunnels under the East River were all flooded and pumping had begun at some of them. Mr. Lhota said that flooding was “literally up to the ceiling” at the South Street subway station in Lower Manhattan. Long Island Railroad remained closed due to flooding on the tracks. Two Metro-North lines north of 59th Street continued to be without power, and Mr. Lhota estimated that there were at least 100 trees downed on the tracks. Staten Island ferry and railway service were also still suspended. In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie said there was “major damage on each and every one of New Jersey’s rail lines.” New Jersey Transit and PATH service remained suspended.

By now you’ve also all seen the video of South Ferry-Whitehall station, and the photos of Ground Zero and the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel:

But back to that report: it was released by the ACE in 1995. By the time the perfectly thinkable happened, predictions of it were nothing new. We have the technology and the ingenuity to anticipate catastrophe. We’ve been red-teaming for years (perhaps not taken seriously enough), and our brightest minds have also met with commercial success in thinking the (formerly) unthinkable. But all the creativity and brilliance and conclusions are meaningless unless they result in action. The Corps of Engineers got it right in 1995; New York did some to prepare, but could have and perhaps should have done more.

Obviously there was no way for the MTA to prevent this from happening. Hurricanes happen, floods happen, and by all accounts Joe Lhota has done a masterful job preparing for and now recovering from the storm (I shudder at the thought of WMATA here in DC struggling to cope with a disaster of similar scope. That disaster has also been anticipated). But there are ways to mitigate it. In this case, solutions range from the macro – i.e., constructing New York’s own version of the Thames flood barrier – to the micro, e.g., waterproofing switches and as much of the sensitive equipment in the East River tubes as possible. Of course, these cost vast amounts of money and most of the time they’ll not be necessary or used – until they’re both.

The problem here is again, for all our planning, building resilience into a system and planning for the worst are completely at odds with an efficient system. Resilience, after all, is the opposite of efficiency. All too often, we find ourselves proscribing solutions – and frequent good solutions at that – only to take no action for fear of the cost or the political will necessary or the “what’s-the-point” strain of defeatism. As Adam Serwer wrote today, there’s no benefit in disaster prevention – politicians’ time to shine is in disaster relief. But somehow we’ve got to overcome our total lack of foresight and find a way to adequately prepare for future catastrophic events.

That goes double for non-natural disasters. The danger in preparing for outlandish ideas is that preventing them would require too much in the way of singular assets dedicated to a niche capability. The constant array of new security theater measures that always seem to be deployed in a wake of a new air travel-based attack vector are proof alone of a) our adversaries’ own ingenuity, and b) the futility of locking the barn door after the horse is out. But if a threat is too remote to have a dedicated counter-team, then we can at least mitigate its potential impacts. Passive measures – building hardening qualities into landscape design, redundant lines and connections (applicable to any sort of network), a general mindset of resilience – these are what we’re missing. New York will rebuild and move on, the subways will be repaired, and the Great American Metropolis will sort itself out as it always does. But we can do it faster, and we can do it better.

Back in Various Colors

Sorry for that longer-than-a-week delay. I’ve been back in London since last Thursday, and I anticipate resuming a fairly normal – though somewhat abbreviated – posting schedule as soon as I can. My first exam is in less than two weeks, so as I approach that date expect things to slow to a trickle.

New York is still fantastic, in case anyone was wondering. It’s impossible to find a bad meal there (a welcome change from the blandness that is English “cuisine”). Highlights include sliders and Guinness shakes at Mark, a Mexican feast at La Taqueria, and a ridiculously amazing pan-Asian experience at Momofuku.

Don’t worry, this won’t be turning into a travel/foodie blog anytime soon. But those three meals alone are better than anything I’ve eaten in London since October, and I’m always game for oneupmanship.

Things do appear to have happened while I was away; I’m still working through a backlog of Google Reader material and other highlights (I’m up to May 20 now)! Expect material on futurism and technology, the British coalition, and much more in the days ahead. And thanks for sticking with this.

Goliath Online

After a nearly two-year hiatus, I’m pleased to announce that GOLIATH will return for an exclusive upcoming DJ gig at Sarah Lawrence College’s end-of-year Bacchanalia bash (for those of you who don’t know, I did a little DJing back in the day and even tried to keep up a middling electronic music blog).

But that’s right, I’m now officially an international DJ. Which is pretty awesome, but also means I won’t be around for the next week or so (only a few hours til takeoff). As usual, busy yourself with some interesting websites, and don’t forget the new additions.

I imagine I’ll be back early if something really ridiculous happens.

Jumping to Conclusions

Well, um, whoops. Not so much the teabagging type, but rather “a Connecticut man, a naturalized United States citizen from Pakistan” named Faisal Shahzad.

So yes, mea culpa. Though the white guy in his 40s remains a ‘person of interest’, clearly he’s not the focus of the investigation, and for that I apologize. But I do think we’re overdue for a reckoning with the enemies of a domestic variety, as all the commentary spouted that subtly sympathizes with them might even serve to legitimize their cause. It certainly increases the likelihood of a right-wing Times Square bomber, though there probably aren’t enough government buildings there to hold their interest for long.

Michael Sheehan has a perfect analysis of this in the New York Times, as well as suggestions on how to stave off ‘lone wolf’ or ‘home grown’ terrorists:

Law enforcement has to focus on preventing sophisticated terrorist organizations from establishing a presence within the United States. The good news is that we know how to do this. The bad news is we aren’t doing it enough. No other American city even attempts to do what New York has accomplished.


For society as a whole, paying for a handful of detectives at the local level is far more efficient than spending billions inside the Beltway on bloated bureaucracies and large-scale defensive measures that will most likely have little practical effect. And while issues of civil liberties are important, they can be managed with close legal oversight of terrorism investigations.

Attacks won’t come from the center, but from the fringes. You can’t centralize national security, nor can you completely disperse it.

Until then, keep following. And keep following afterward. Remain vigilant.

Big Bust in the Big Apple, Cont’d

New development from the ongoing Times Square car bomb story:

Police and federal agents on Sunday were reviewing surveillance footage that shows a possible suspect in the failed Times Square car bombing, describing him as a white man in his 40s who was walking away from the area where the vehicle was parked, looking furtively over his shoulder and removing a layer of clothing, officials said [emphasis mine].

Is it possible that the poorly-veiled, separatist, militia-oriented, violent uprising-style rhetoric of the ignorant sectors of the right has taken root? In case you need a reminder:

The 18 percent of Americans who identify themselves as Tea Party supporters tend to be Republican, white, male, married and older than 45 [emphasis mine].

One nut begets another. Black swans on the horizon…

Big Bust in the Big Apple

A police officer in a bomb suit examined a Nissan Pathfinder sport utility vehicle.

If you haven’t been following, a pretty poor VBIED was found in Times Square today after a t-shirt vendor notified a horse cop that there was a smoking SUV parked at a strange angle. Quick evac of the area and speedy response from the NYPD. Turns out it was in the midst of detonating, but was shoddily constructed and thus never actually went off. Possibly a downside to open-source warfare, etc. : you can have the plans and the equipment, but actually following those instructions may prove difficult. Ever try to assemble something from Ikea?

But so far, the reaction from Bloomberg and the NYPD has been pretty stellar. And no one is panicking a la the Pants Bomber. In this case, at least, failure as a strategy has proven to be no more than just a plain failure.

The vendor who found the bomb is absolutely Mr. Cool:

He said that he was reluctant to speak with members of the media because they had twisted his words when they interviewed him in recent years.

He got into the back seat of the taxi, took off his hat and used it to fan his face.

Before he left, he was asked what he had to say to New Yorkers.

See something, say something,” he said.