Reuters: NJ Transit officials erroneously modeled Sandy surgeBy
Even as New Jersey Transit nears its pre-Sandy service levels, stories of its storm preparation failures have continued to emerge. Despite questions concerning what NJ Transit executives knew and when, we’ve seen Gov. Christie defend his deputies in charge of the transit agency. Now, a new casts further light on mistakes New Jersey Transit made in advance of Sandy’s landfall.
The latest comes to us from Reuters where Ryan McNeill and Janet Roberts have reported that NJ Transit botched its own modeling. They report:
New Jersey Transit incorrectly used federal government software that otherwise could have warned officials against a disastrous decision to leave hundreds of millions of dollars worth of equipment in a low-lying rail yard before Superstorm Sandy struck, a Reuters examination has found. The agency based its decision, at least in part, on software provided by the National Weather Service that allows users to simulate an approaching hurricane and show areas vulnerable to flooding from storm surge, according to Sandy-related forecast documents obtained by Reuters from New Jersey Transit. Exactly how the agency used the software is unclear because the agency declined to answer any specific questions.
Reuters asked for the documents that New Jersey Transit relied upon in deciding to leave the trains at its Meadows Maintenance Complex in Kearny, New Jersey. Among the documents was a screen-shot of storm prediction software that indicated the user had the storm traveling northeast, away from the New York area, while moving at the wrong speed. As a result, the software predicted surges that were about half the levels actually forecast – errors that underestimated the threat to the Meadows complex.
New Jersey Transit takes issue with the findings. But a Reuters analysis shows that had the software been used to produce surge estimates similar to forecasts, agency leaders could have seen a different picture. The result would have pointed to potential inundation of a large portion of the rail yard, mirroring the flooding that ultimately occurred.
In a back-and-forth with Reuters, New Jersey Transit defended its actions. “NJ Transit used the most current weather forecasts and available data at that time,” spokesman John Durso said, “along with accepted analysis practices by emergency management professionals and historical experiences, to inform and guide decisions up to and through Sandy.”
Yet, despite these protests, a Reuters examination of documents made available by the agency showed that their inputs into the modeling software differed from the forecasts at the time. Additionally, New Jersey Transit did not reach out to the National Weather Service’s New York or New Jersey offices to receive updated forecasts or storm surge predictions.
Ultimately, New Jersey Transit cannot undo their costly mistakes to model the storm and protect their rolling stock, but it seems, again, that someone should be held responsible for the agency’s failures. If anything, the corporate culture seems to be one of isolationism and stubbornness, and the people who suffer the most are the riders. At a certain point, saying “Well, we tried” isn’t good enough, and we’re well past that point.