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Transcript: Office of Public Safety Holds Briefing on Public Safety in New York City

December 15, 2023

Kaegan Mays‑Williams, General Counsel, Office of the Deputy Mayor of Public Safety: Good afternoon. My name is Kaegan Mays‑Williams, and I'm the general counsel for the Office of the Deputy Mayor of Public SafetyPublic safety is the most important issue for many New Yorkers, and so we want to make sure that we are keeping you updated on what the city is doing to keep you safe.

We hold these discussions to make sure that you have the opportunity to hear directly from the people in charge of protecting your city. Some of the things you're going to hear about are the services that the agencies provide, the programs that they offer, the innovative initiatives that they're introducing, and some of the recommendations to keep you and your family safe.

As we often say, the public needs to be safe and the public needs to feel safe. One way for people to stay safe and feel safer is to be prepared, which is the core function of the New York City Emergency Management department. I am joined here today by Zach Iscol, who is the commissioner of New York City Emergency Management Department also known as NYCEM.

NYCEM is responsible for coordinating the city's emergency planning to keep New Yorkers prepared and safe before, during and after emergencies. As we enter the winter season, we need to be ready for all of the challenges that we face this time of year.

That, of course, includes cold weather and snow storms, but also as we know, the holiday season can impact our mental health and well‑being, which is something that I know the commissioner is very passionate about and is going to speak about in a moment. Fortunately, we have an outstanding team at NYCEM overseeing plans and preparations to enable our city to weather any storm. With that, I turn it over to Commissioner Iscol.

Commissioner Zach Iscol, New York City Emergency Management: Thank you, GC Kaegan Mays‑Williams. It's great to be here with you today.
So, I'm also joined today by two of my colleagues; and before I start. You know, the other night when we had the building collapse, I was out there with the mayor, and we were sort of walking to the scene. And you had a sea of agencies that were there: firefighters who were doing a bucket brigade, literally digging through the rubble hand by hand looking for a potential casualty.

We had all these different agencies out there — Buildings, MTA, HPD, the Police Department, emergency management, DOE — and the mayor just made this remark of how a lot of New Yorkers are just not aware of all the work that goes into supporting this city on a daily basis, and how lucky we are to have the public servants that work for the city doing what they do day‑in and day‑out.

And whether it is some of the weather that we'll talk about coming into the city this weekend and all of the folks who are working to prepare the city for that weather, whether it's the folks that were monitoring the situation last night with that transformer issue at ConEd, whether it's just some of the day to day work, we are really, really lucky to have the public servants that we have in New York City.

They are among some of the finest people I've worked with in my career.

And I'm joined today by two of them: Iskra Killgore, our assistant commissioner for Community Engagement; and Paula Carlson, our executive director for Exercises at New York City Emergency Management.

Paula plays a pivotal role in preparing not just our agency but all of the agencies in preparing for emergencies. And a few weeks ago she ran an incredible exercise in real time with City Hall leadership starting on Sunday going through Friday morning where we basically had a snow storm hit the city. And we forced City Hall leadership agencies to make difficult decisions in real time throughout the week as if they were preparing for that event, and she'll talk about that exercise shortly.

Paula has also been instrumental in monitoring city‑wide incidents and leading our training exercise division. She's also been with the agency since 2003. She has worked in a range of major events from Flight 1549 — the Miracle on the Hudson — Hurricanes Katrina, Irene and Sandy. She helped with the Ebola outbreak, with the Covid‑19 pandemic, and is just another one of those incredible public servants.

The great thing about working at emergency management is you get two jobs for the price of one, so all of our workforce, you not only have your day job but you also get to be on one of our three on call teams, red, white or blue. Those teams do three‑week tours where they are prepared to respond to anything coming up around the city 24/7. And so in addition to her work in exercises, Paula is on our blue team as one of the emergency operations center managers.

Iskra Killgore, who's our assistant commissioner for Community Engagement, is another key figure in our emergency planning and readiness efforts. She's been with the agency since 2013. She has a significant focus on resilience, community engagement, helping New York City's neighborhoods.

She helped found a program that you'll learn about today called Strengthening Communities, and she speaks three languages, is a proud immigrant, and does incredible work. Like Paula and many of our team members, she also serves on one of our on-call teams. She is on our red team, which Iskra says is the best team. I don't know, I don't play favorites.

And on the red team she helps with community engagement and language access. In a city like New York where we have so many people speak so many languages, when we have an emergency that language access piece is hugely, hugely important. And she's also played a huge role in just helping the city evolve its language access programs not just at New York City emergency management but a lot of other agencies really lean on her expertise and the work she's done. So, if you have questions around that, she's the one to ask.

Before we begin, I'm going to give just a couple quick updates, one on the weather this weekend. As of right now we have a forecast that calls for two to three inches of rain and wind gusts of 30 to 35 miles per hour, the bulk of which is expected Sunday afternoon to Monday morning.

Heavy rain during this time may lead to some nuisance flooding conditions on roadways and properties. Major rainfall flood impacts are not expected at this time. We have activated our city's Flash Flood Emergency Plan to take preemptive actions. And there is the threat of moderate coastal flooding along some of New York City's shorelines, depending upon how the offshore winds and the tides lineup Sunday and Monday.

So, what I'd urge all New Yorkers to do is to remain alert, monitor the forecast. If you are not signed up for NotifyNYC, that is our city's emergency notification system, I encourage you to do so. It's available in 14 languages including American Sign Language. You can sign up by calling 311, by going to, or by downloading the app. It's also available in American Sign Language.
Second, give a quick update on the partial building collapse in the Bronx. Our fellow agency partners and city contractors have been working around the clock up there. We've been doing a lot of work to shore up that wing of the building and adding some lighting, which is all critical to allowing people back into the building to retrieve their belongings.

As the work continues, the city will make an assessment of the building's active vacate order to see if and when we may allow people to re-vacate the building and whether it will be suitable for that. In the meantime, we continue to work with tenants on providing housing assistance.

Yesterday, folks in the south wing were escorted in the afternoon to get their stuff. After demo cleanup work is done and the power's restored to the north wing, some of the north wing residents will be escorted in to get their stuff as well.

And then as it is determined that it's safe to do so, other tenants in the north wing closer to the collapsed corner will also be able to go in to retrieve their stuff. If you want to get text updates you can tax bxcollapse to 692692, that's NYCNYC, for English. bxcollapsesp for Spanish, bxcollapsefr for French.

And then, last night's power outage or power failure, just before midnight a high voltage piece of equipment failed at a Con Edison substation in Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn. New Yorkers may have noticed a momentary voltage dip. This event caused a significant albeit momentary power dip across the city.

They had safety protections in place similar to circuit breakers in your home but on a much larger scale. They were able to isolate that issue almost immediately and then to isolate the damaged equipment and voltage levels returned to normal.

Upon receiving notification of the surge we saw also around this time an increased call regarding elevator malfunctions across the city. We started coordinating with ConEd, NYPD, FDNY  and MTA, there were some subway issues from this last night as well, to assess and mitigate the situation.

ConEd then confirmed with us that a fault in a 27‑kilovolt feeder at the Farragut substation triggered the outage, but no other feeders were affected. There was a small fire associated, which was promptly resolved on site.

One of the concerns we had last night in our work with ConEd was around a drop in steam pressure at the East River Generating Station. ConEd then declared a steam system emergency, but they have since begun restoration operations and there's no reported impacts to steam customers at this time, as the system has been restored to normal. And I think while it's important to remember that these things do happen infrequently, ConEd does maintain the most reliable electric delivery system in the United States.

The last thing I wanted to just talk about before turning it over to my colleagues here is on, you know, this is the holiday season and there's a lot to be grateful for, our city workers, there's a lot of people who are celebrating. The holidays are also a really tough time for a lot of folks, and I know how tough the holidays can be.

For me, this is a particularly tough time of year: 19 years ago I was in Fallujah, and this is always a reminder starting around November 7th, me and a lot of the guys I served with, every day there's another reminder somebody that we lost. And my battalion was one of the hardest battalions of the Iraq war. We lost 33 Marines in Fallujah, over half our battalion was wounded. We have now lost far more Marines — over 50 — to suicide than we did in combat.

And I know for us this is a particularly tough time of year, but I know for a lot of New Yorkers it is as well. Therapy has been hugely helpful for me. If you have the ability to reach out and talk to somebody, I encourage you to do so. It's also something that I know affects everybody, right? Whether it's yourself, whether it's a love one, none of us are not impacted by mental health.

The city has some great resources. The city is also something, I think the numbers are 14 percent of adults of New Yorkers have a significant serious mental illness. It's over 850,000 New Yorkers. So, please check in on your loved ones, check in on your neighbors. Be there for folks in need.

If you have a teen in your life, the city has launched TeenSpace, a free mental health service that can be delivered to any teen between the ages of 13 and 17. Signing up is simple. You can just go to The city also offers a resource, 988, which is a national initiative like 911 but for mental health. We have support through 988 that is available 24/7 in over 200 languages. You can also get a lot more resources at

I think these resources are really great and initiatives that just sort of are a testament to the city's commitment to the mental health of all New Yorkers, and that makes our city such a leader on this issue.
So, with that said, I will now turn it over to Paula Carlson, who will talk a little bit about the 2023 Winter Weather Executive Functional Exercise, which as I said, took place in real time over the course of weeks. With that said, Paula.

Paula Carlson, Executive Director, Exercises, New York City Emergency Management: Thank you so much, commissioner.

So, yes, like any of our drills and exercises that we hold, this exercise was really about making sure that New York City, we're all ready for whatever winter weather can throw our way. So, from Sunday, November 26th through Friday, December 1st, we brought together members of City Hall and various agency leadership to simulate a response to a winter weather emergency.

So, imagine a big storm is coming towards New York City. It's cold. We know that the snow can quickly create dangerous roadway conditions, the wind can cause trees to fall, power outages can occur, and you're counting on us to really be prepared to clear those streets to ensure our first responders are able to access those who need it most, keep transportation running, monitor impacts of our vulnerable populations and keep the city informed through coordinated messaging and alerts.

By practicing this decision making and response in these exercises we're making sure that when that real storm does impact us or could impact the city we're not just guessing what to do we know, we know what we're going to do .

So, we had our team is working together on how to coordinate better, because in an emergency — as the commissioner has said, too — we're a team. We need to work together. We need to understand our roles in each of these emergencies.

We dove into winter weather forecasts to understand what the National Weather Service will tell us to do so we can really make informed decisions and plan‑based choices such as when we need to salt the roads or when to dispatch those crews to do so.

We also focused on decision making, because in an emergency we know that every second counts. These drills help our leaders to get comfortable with making those tough calls quickly and effectively, and it's about keeping you and the city running smooth and safely.

So, why do we do this? It's simple: when that big storm hits, and it will, we want to make sure that we're reading not just for the storm but for you. We want to make sure that we're doing everything we can to keep you safe, keep the city moving and to bounce back as quickly as possible.

And that's our promise to you, to be prepared, to be responsive and to put your safety first. And this drill was really just another step in fulfilling that promise, and we'll keep working and we'll keep practicing, because your safety and well being are what matters most to us. Thank you. Commissioner.

Commissioner Iscol: Thanks, Paula. It was a fantastic exercise, and I think we also had… It was not just important that we do it, right, before every sort of season you want to sort of dust off the cobwebs. You also, sometimes have new people joining an administration, new folks in different seats at agencies, so it's always good to sort of dust the cobwebs off. And we also had a lot of fun doing it, I think us in particular because it was a chance to give City Hall a little bit of a hard time throughout the course of the week with the exercise.

So, I'll now turn it over to Iskra, who's going to talk a little bit about some of the work we do with Strengthening Communities. I think, you know, as somebody who's been on the other side of this trying to work with government, I sort of understand that sometimes when you are a nonprofit, a faith‑based organization, how challenging it can be to work with government.

And at emergency management, we also understand that we cannot do any of this work alone, that we always sort of work better when we work together and certainly with partners in the private sector and the nonprofit sector, and the Strengthening Communities program is a great example of that.

Just sort of two examples from the migrant crisis. We have had a really great partnership the last couple weeks with EVLoves —East Village Loves — on the Lower East Side doing some feeding down there. Masbia kitchen has been at a lot of our sites. Both of those organizations have really been incredibly, incredibly helpful for us, and we're looking to double down on these efforts. So, with that said,

I'll turn it over to you, Iskra. Thank you.

Assistant Commissioner Iskra Killgore, Community Engagement, New York City Emergency Management: Thank you, commissioner. As the commissioner said, I got into emergency management because I am really passionate about community resilience. And I would like to talk to you about our Strengthening Communities program, which was envisioned to do just that: we fund local community emergency networks to develop their community plans tailored to their needs unique to their communities.

Community emergency networks are in essence coalitions of community‑based and faith‑based organizations interested in engaging and planning for their community. We currently have 35 networks across all five boroughs who do incredible work, and I would like to highlight the work of two of our networks who completed their emergency plans over the summer.

First, I would like to talk about the Community Inclusion and Development Alliance — also known as CIDA — their plans notably incorporated the needs of people with intellectual disabilities and those who face language barriers.

This is a testament to see this commitment of inclusivity and accessibility. They also helped us over the summer when we were updating our hurricane plan, they helped us refine our translations making sure that the language that we use is appropriate and culturally sensitive to the community.

I would also like to talk about the Muslim Community Network. They also completed their plan this summer, and their plan underscores their commitment to fostering a culture of preparedness across our diverse Muslim communities in the city. They also have worked to schedule fire safety and emergency preparedness trainings working with the community to make sure that they're prepared.

During the storm, the flooding event that we experienced on September 29th, they also did digital canvassing where they disseminated critical information into the community making sure that they're safe and prepared.

These are just two examples of the incredible work that our 35 networks do, and this is what Strengthening Communities is all about. It's more than emergency management, it's about building local resilience that is tailored to the unique needs of our communities. Thank you.

Commissioner Iscol: Thank you so much, Iskra, and thanks for the great work that you do. And with that said, I will turn it back over to you, GC.

Mays‑Williams: Thank you so much, commissioner. Iskra, I have a follow‑up question for you. If I wanted to add a Strengthening Communities program in my own community, how would I go about doing that?

Assistant Commissioner Killgore: That's a great question, thank you. You can either go on our website or e‑mail us at We are going to open applications for the program over the summer, there is an application process. And we're really hoping that we are going to enroll 20 new networks this next fiscal year, and we do orientations for prospective networks. So, if you e‑mail us, we can give you information on when we are planning to hold our next orientation sessions.

Mays‑Williams: Fantastic. And how long is the orientation?

Killgore: Just an hour. We keep it short.

Mays‑Williams: Thank you so much. And Paula, I did have one question. How often are you conducting these exercises?

Carlson: We stay busy. We're holding at least an exercise a week; if not — if it's a larger exercise — we'll hold it every other week. But we're also participating in other agency exercises, and even working with community engagement, too, we also run exercises with them. So, we run them often.

Mays‑Williams: And can you describe a scenario where you have offered a completely, just thrown something in that an agency was not prepared to respond to just to really make sure that we're really thinking through all scenarios in case of an emergency?

Carlson: So, I will say that to me, that is a good exercise. You want to, what we call "pressure test."  And it's every exercise. There's always something that we, you know, like the commissioner had said, we like to kind of put those things in there.

We're behind the scenes, so we know where we need to push or push a little more, identify gaps. So, every exercise, really, we're throwing something that we know might find a gap or also [as] look at the things that we do best as well.

Mays‑Williams: Fantastic. Thank you so much.

Question: Zach, on the power outage issue, the mayor a couple minutes ago said that he was at a late night meeting and he saw the lights flicker. I was wondering, were you awake when it happened? Did you see it yourself? And secondarily, you mentioned an elevator issue, primarily with the MTA, but did elevators also go out at NYCHA buildings, high rises, anywhere else that you can talk about?

Commissioner Iscol: I was admittedly not awake. I have not slept most of this week, and I went to bed early last night around the same time as my kids hoping to get a good night's sleep.
And then the president of ConEd called me at about, I think it was like around 12:30. And I was in touch with the mayor around about 10 minutes… I was on the phone with him for about five, 10 minutes and then immediately was in touch with the mayor and City Hall leadership.

Question: On the elevator issue, were there… Do you have a quantity of the number of elevators that… 

Commissioner Iscol: We can try and get the number of calls that have come in from the Fire Department what we had last night, because we were then sort of monitoring the situation and my calls with the president of ConEd, Matt Ketschke, the big concerns was elevators, the MTA issue but also the steam issue, right, going into cold weather and there was concerns that we might lose steam pressure primarily in Manhattan south of I think it was 96th Street, 92nd Street.

But in terms of the elevators, we only had nine NYCHA buildings that had elevator issues. I think six were in Brooklyn, two were in the Bronx. And so that was that was the elevator issue last night.

Question: Just real quick, since you talked about it. On the steam issue, is… The fear is that… Just talk about why a steam emergency is a concern.

Commissioner Iscol: Well, the concern is that if you have a decrease in steam pressure, people rely on steam for heat in their buildings, right? And so that's the big concern there.
And ConEd was able to mitigate that, and but that was one of the things that we were monitoring through the night, are we now going to have to shift to… Because one of things that you're always thinking about is you're trying to get ahead of things as you are sort of looking at what are the impacts, and then what can we do to possibly address that.

And so if we are now having some sort of heat issue, right, what do we now might need to do in order to mitigate that at NYCHA facilities or otherwise across the city. So, that was what we started looking at.

Question: Commissioner, before I get to the question I just want to say, I appreciate what you said in respect to Fallujah. I'm sorry about what you went through. I'm sorry about the impacts that linger to this day.

Commissioner Iscol: Thank you.

Question: And I appreciate that you were willing to share that with us.

Commissioner Iscol: Thanks.

Question: As for the question, what happened with ConEd happened in the middle of the night? Are you concerned at all about potential impacts had it happened in the middle of the day or during rush hour?

Commissioner Iscol: My job is always to be concerned, right? So, I mean, there's always concerns, that's like what we do in emergency management is thinking about these things. But what I will say is look, ConEd has a very resilient grid. I think last night it showed that, right?

When we got the call last night, there was a fire at this transformer, right? The Fire Department didn't even need to arrive on scene to put out a fire, their fire suppression mitigation efforts worked. They were able to immediately isolate and island that transformer, and as you can see, things returned to normal pretty quickly. And the other issues we were able to sort of address. But yes, yeah I'm always concerned about everything, but that's the nature of my job.

Question: ...railroad trains were affected in Queens, you had Metro North trains that were affected. Had this happened during rush hour, potentially, impacts could've been exponential.

Commissioner Iscol: There can always be impacts to these types of things, yes.

Question: [Inaudible.]

Commissioner Iscol: I can't. I mean, it's a great question, right? I mean, and so it's one of the things whether it's a winter storm or… You're always looking at the time of day as an impact. It's one of things we did actually with this exercise around winter storm planning, is we had a storm that was coming in that was likely going to impact the Friday morning commute. The storm slows down, now it might be overnight that you have some impacts, we're less concerned about it, but now it's suddenly impacting the end of day Thursday.

The timing of these things — and it's a great question — whether it's a storm, whether it's a power failure, something happening on a Sunday morning or overnight is very different than something happening during the day. A snowstorm that's happening in the mornings, much easier decisions around school closures or a move to remote learning than something that's happening at the end of the day.

And it's part of our job to have plans in place to be able to address these things regardless of when those impacts might occur. But the time of the day, the time of the week, the time of the year all create a lot more complexities for us in emergency management, certainly.

Question: I'd like to ask about the tenants who had to be evacuated from the Bronx building that partially collapsed. When you say that the city is working with the Red Cross to help them with their housing, what exactly does that mean? Does that mean that, is the Red Cross offering them… Is the Red Cross and city offering them stay in hotels or some other kind of shelter?

Commissioner Iscol: Yes, it's a great question. So, when we have a building vacate usually due to a fire, sometimes it can be due to a collapse, a structural issue — there's any number of reasons you might have to vacate a building — we work very closely with HPD and with the Red Cross.

Red Cross operates under an HPD contract to provide emergency sheltering and housing to folks. And I think generally it's a few days that we provide. That can change based on the event and sort of the need.

And then generally speaking, during that time we are working with those residents to try and see if they have another place to go, if we're able to get them back into the building, if we're able to maybe mitigate some of the issues that are causing them to be displaced; or, if we need to put them into HPD longer‑term shelters while we work out with them to get into longer‑term housing.

Question: What exactly is the shelter? Would it be a hotel?

Commissioner Iscol: It's a great question. It varies. Oftentimes it's a hotel. There have been times because of, you know, again, this gets back to the question about the time of the year. During the holiday season in particular when you look at, for example, winter storm Elliott last year, right, during the holidays there's fewer hotels.

Sometimes you have hotels that are not available in certain boroughs but may be available in other boroughs. Sometimes we've had, come close having to open up congregate facilities. So, it really varies, and the Red Cross actually has, I think they're called the Emergency Response Vehicles — ERVs — that have the capacity, you know, cots and things of that nature that they could set up an overnight shelter similar to a coastal storm shelter.

Question: I have a couple questions, one on the snowstorm drill. Is that, how much does that cost? I mean, and how regularly do you guys do it? Is it… Is there an additional cost to running those exercises?

Commissioner Iscol: Is there an additional cost to

I mean, it's… Really, it's a lot of meetings, it's… You know, it starts with me sending some text messages and communication with the mayor on Sunday about an end of the week forecast, and then we had a regular sort of cadence of updates throughout the week with various meetings real time.

So, we also have to adjust, because City Hall, you can't always predict what the actors are going to do. But our team, I mean, other than sort of the cost of the team that runs that event, which is, I mean they're fully salaried, almost… I guess vested at this point, right, Paula?

Carlson: Um‑hmm.

Commissioner Iscol: Yes. There's no additional cost. Yes.

Question: The other thing I wanted to ask you about, you know, talking about people who have experienced trauma and kind of dealing with it and the holiday season. You know, and what the city is doing to kind of help and courage in that.

This might sound like a little out of left field, but you know, there's some research that shows, you know, treating people, that it's effective to treat people who experience trauma with drugs that were once illegal like LSD and MDMA and stuff like that.

Is that, you know, and I think there's still like the jury's still out on kind of some of that stuff. Is that like something that's been discussed in the city yet? I'd imagine there might be some legal issues on the state level, but I'm just curious, I mean, this might not be...

Commissioner Iscol: Yes. Look, it's a great question, it's one, I mean, I'd have to defer to Dr. Vasan and Dr. Katz who could speak more about sort of what they are looking at.
I know from my own experience and especially in the veteran side of mental health and having been very involved in building and running treatment programs, my experience has been that there's no panacea. I think one of the things that we see with mental health — and I am not speaking as a doctor; and again, I would defer to Dr. Vasan here — but is that what works for one person may not work for somebody else, and that really what you need is to be able to offer individually tailored services.

And so you have, you've seen things like MDMA, other types of treatments that have shown a lot of efficacy. I think there's also a danger, though, of folks thinking that if you just take a bunch of drugs you're going to be fine, right? And that's called self medicating.

And that's, I think it really needs to be done under the supervision of a qualified medical professional to make sure that it's real treatment and not self medication, which can be dangerous.

Question: You've repeatedly mentioned how important it is to get accurate, reliable information out to the public quickly. The administration's moving to kick reporters out of One Police Plaza. How is that a responsible decision?


Question: No, this is… This is emergency communications. DCPI is the hub for emergency communications in the city. You guys are kicking reporters out. He's the emergency management commissioner. Commissioner, does this make your job more difficult?

Question: Does that make your job more difficult?


Commissioner Iscol: What I can say is getting this question from you certainly makes my job more difficult. But what I will say is, look, I don't… I'm not totally aware of the details. My understanding is is part of what they're trying to do is open up more space for more reporters.

But I'm not well read in on it. I'm happy to look into it and have conversations. I think as you know, for us transparency and the work we do with the press is incredibly important and one of the reasons that I really wanted to do this meeting today — and I'm grateful to see you all here — is like not only are nonprofits critical partners for us and the private sector, but when we have a major event, so is the press, right?

If we have a big coastal storm or winter weather event, you guys are reaching a lot of people on a daily basis, and it is really important that we have this relationship to be able to get people out there. So, if you guys are looking for space and you want some space at our headquarters, happy to open up some rooms at New York City Emergency Management to have some press folks there. Thank you.


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