Tropical Storm Isaias, Real Life Story Of RIOC Dysfunction


Tropical Storm Isaias exposes RIOC dysfunction as the state agency fumbled and bumbled its leadership role. So bad, it was almost funny. Except for the risks.

By David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

Rocked by the sudden ouster of president/CEO Susan Rosenthal in June, RIOC blundering stood out as exceptionally bad as Tropical Storm Isaias blasted Roosevelt Island.

RIOC’s notices posted a day before the storm showed that they at least catch weather reports on the local news.

At 7:00 p.m. on Monday, an email blast said they were “closely monitoring” the approaching storm. And they promised follow-ups.

In a timely salute to RIOC dysfunction, Tropical Storm Isaias blew off a recently plunked down, but useless, bike sign.

Sure enough, just 45 minutes later, they advised bringing inside any lightweight objects.

“We are urging extreme caution to be exercised and all necessary safeguarding precautions be put in place,” they added.

But what specifically were they talking about? They never said, and then, the fun began. Or didn’t.

How Tropical Storm Isaias Exposes RIOC Dysfunction

Monday’s community alerts, emailed and posted on a webpage, were most notable for missing information. As we reported yesterday, the city called a press conference on Monday afternoon, going over preparations for an expected storm surge.

RIOC never noticed although flooding from surges poses a threat to life here as great or greater than lightweight objects blown around.

Also missing: advice about the Tram, warnings about being outdoors in high winds, possible evacuation sites. The list goes on. These are all things RIOC should and, back in what we never knew were the good old days, once did.

And then, the fun began…

At 10:44 a.m. on Tuesday as heavy rain presaged Isaias’s arrival, RIOC emailed an alert.

“…the Tram elevator will be temporarily taken out of service beginning at 12 PM to prevent damage to its electrical components,” it read, adding, “A follow up advisory will be sent after it is deemed safe to put the elevator back in service.”

You guessed it, there was never any elevator follow up.

But as television viewers noted, reports of a full Tram shutdown, not just the elevator, streamed on local news, late in the morning. Not a word from RIOC.

Tropical Storm Isaias exposed RIOC’s gross dysfunction. Either a tornado or a microburst ripped two trees out of the ground a Pony Field, but RIOC missed the tornado warnings entirely.

At 10:00 a.m., as RIOC dozed, the city office of emergency management along with Mayor Bill de Blasio brought in the media for an update. A “threat of tornadoes now,” de Blasio warned.

“This is a new piece of this equation,” he added.

RIOC was mum.

But Isaias wasn’t. True to warnings from OEM, either a small tornado or a microburst ripped trees out of the ground near Pony Field, and more damage raked Lighthouse Park.

Who woke up RIOC?

At 3:16 in the afternoon, as Isaias subsided with the worst already past, the state agency finally said, “The Tram has now suspended service.”

Only four to five hours after television outlets were notified.

Did the Tram brave 70-mile-per-hour winds and lightning all day, before shutting down when the winds subsided?

Or did frustrated residents rattle the cage at 591 Main Street harshly enough that they woke up the staff?

Less than a half-hour earlier, RIOC posted, “All Roosevelt Island parks, including FDR Four Freedoms State Park, are now closed due to tropical storm Isaias. We will send an update once the parks are reopened.”

A cheery flock of Canadian Geese welcomed me to Lighthouse Park, a half-hour after RIOC claimed it was closed.

Let’s unpack this.

First, at least Lighthouse Park never closed. I walked in, a half-hour after RIOC’s announcement, without seeing a single sign, PSD officer or even the ever-available yellow tape.

There was plenty of damage…

But there was no sign about closing, do not enter, stay away, get out, whatever…

Gusts from Isaias scattered broken tree limbs along the West Promenade in Lighthouse Park.

Isaias’s assault on the park emphasized RIOC dysfunction.

Conclusion: Tropical Storm Isaias Exposes RIOC Dysfunction

It wasn’t just the lack of notices or the ineptitude of those released, it was worse.

Wanting to get an early jump on this story, I went out, camera in hand, about an hour before the storm warnings from the National Weather Service expired.

A little rain and cool winds, some gusty, greeted me, but what I never saw was a single sign of RIOC. Not anywhere, unless you count our reliable red buses, all of which kept to their routes, on time.

I passed uprooted trees and broken branches blocking promenades and sidewalks. But no sign of Public Safety or work crews clearing hazards.

A wild and windy Lighthouse Park was wide open to any and all visitors, and I passed runners and others along the way.

Circling south past Manhattan Park, I noticed damages mostly isolated to the northern tip of the Island. But on my way back home, I saw something showing how completely and ironically Isaias exposed RIOC dysfunction.

Isaias flipped a virtually useless bike directional sign, twenty feet from Main.

Part of a lame effort diverting bike riders to the promenade, it was as useful laying down as it had been standing.

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