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A Citizen’s Eye View of Public Preparedness

Crane Accident Underscores Great Promise, Current Limitations Of Govt. Emergency Email/Text Alerts

June 2nd, 2008 · No Comments

As I reported in an earlier post, a question asked by many residents of the buildings who could not get back into their apartments after the crane collapse on Friday was how they could recharge their cell phones. In fact, keeping your mobile device powered during and after an emergency situation is crucial – so you can both communicate with others and get the latest information. As mentioned often on this blog, I subscribe to a number of free governmental e-mail/text alert services in New York and around the nation which provide official information before, during and after emergencies.

Normally, the alerts do not directly relate to my daily life, but I have signed up for many of them in order to see how various government authorities are using the technology for emergency communications. Things were different on Friday since the crane collapse occurred just north of where I live. I needed to know the information both as a resident of the area as well as a member of a CERT team that would be mobilized to help deal with the incident.

The governmental email/text alerts that I received on Friday underscore both the great promise and the current limits of these services. Here in New York, I subscribe to both the State’s NYAlert and the City’s NotifyNYC. Both were launched recently. 

At 9:25am, Friday morning, I received an email from Preparedness 2.0 guru David Stephenson. Having seen the crane accident on television, David forwarded to me the only email he had received from the City’s NotifyNYC service earlier in the day.  


He was puzzled why he had not also received a similar alert about the apartment accident that he was viewing live on national tv. It was a great question. Here’s why he didn’t: The City’s NotifyNYC currently only covers five pilot neighborhoods, one in each borough. So, the City sent out an alert about the leaking hydrant in downtown Manhattan. But it did not do the same about the crane collapse, which is in another neighborhood uptown.

However, the State’s NYAlert, which I have signed up for, does cover the entire state. So, I had received a notification (below) at 8:35am (less an hour after the accident) from the State’s Department of Transportation about street closures in the area. 

Transportation – NYS DOT Road closure


Issued By:  NYS – DOT
Affected Jurisdictions:  New York County

Headline:  UPDATE: 91st Street (W/B) Crane Collapse at 1st Avenue (Manhattan) since 8:25 a.m Friday, May 30th . All lanes closed until further notice.

Updates were sent throughout the day. This morning, at 6:45am, I received another notification about street lane openings:

UPDATE: 91st Street (W/B) Crane Collapse at 1st Avenue (Manhattan) since 8:25 A.M. Friday, May 30th . All lanes closed until further notice. Also 1st Avenue (N/B) between 86th Street and 89th Street two lanes are open. 

cert bldg collapse 011

A number of people have asked me why the City and State have different alert systems, and how they might be coordinated in the future. I will try to get that answer this week and report back. (The City does have plans to rollout its alert service citywide.)

I recommend signing up for these notification programs in a text or email format to any residents of New York City for NotifyNYC and New York State for NYAlert. Those in other areas of the country should check with their local authorities to see what type of services they have or are planning.



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