Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York  

Regional Power Brokers Attend GBA Business and the City Seminar

Contact: Tom Stoelker
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Con Edison's Kevin Burke and the Port Authority's Patrick Foye discussed potential disaster scenarios.
Photo by Chris Taggart

As in the line from John Donne, "No Man is an Island," it can be said that no disaster is an island unto itself either. That was the public consensus, too, at "Hurricane Sandy as Inspiration for a ‘New’ New York," a March 5 conference held at Fordham University.

The daylong event was the first in the Business and the City seminars series being co-sponsored by the Graduate School of Business Administration (GBA) and Verizon.
Featured panelists took a cold, hard look at designing, building, and funding infrastructure in the post-Sandy metropolis. Comparisons to 9/11 were frequent and future threats such as tsunamis, earthquakes, and cyber attacks were all evoked.

“Let us prove that we are doers who meet challenges,” Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham said in opening remarks.

David Gautschi, Ph.D., dean of GBA, evoked Charles Dickens by saying this moment in history could be New York's tale of two cities: “that of our collective memory and that of how we envision it.”

John E. Zuccotti joined Richard Ravitch for the day's last session.
Photo by Chris Taggart
Gautschi described the series launch as a thesis, which will be followed by subsequent conferences that could take an “anti-thesis” point of view. He added that GBA is committed to picking up the series this fall in an attempt to find common themes.

Mike Wallace, Pulitzer Prize-winning co-author of Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 (Oxford, 1998) framed the conversation within the city's history, telling the crowd that New York rebuilders do in fact have "winds of history at their backs.” 

“There will no doubt be naysayers,” said Wallace, adding that, even as he spoke the city’s massive water tunnel project is making tremendous strides “underneath our feet.” That project alone represents one of the few times the overused term “awesome” is entirely appropriate, he said.

The seminar's second panel featured New York power brokers Patrick Foye, FCRH '78, LAW '81, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and Kevin Burke, LAW '77, CEO of Consolidated Edison.

Foye said the storm was the worst transportation disaster that the country had ever seen. He warned that in rebuilding, the city, state, and federal governments should heed the advice given to cadets at West Point: "Don’t be like the generals who were always fighting the last war."

He said the region should think of Sandy not as a worst-case scenario, but as the “minimum of what should be prepared for.”

R.P. Raghupathi, Ph.D., director of Fordham's Center for Digital Transformation, asked for a comparison of city responses to 9/11 and that of Sandy. Foye said that all emerging threats must be considered in tandem with natural disasters, such as cyber attacks. While Sandy calls to mind damage to physical infrastructure, a cyber attack would also affect transportation, communication, and electrical systems as well.

“Yesterday’s Bulgarian math major is now a state actor,” he said of potential international cyber attackers.

The similarities between natural and manmade disasters were clear when Christopher Levendos, executive director of national operations for Verizon, described a harrowing account of damage sustained at Verizon during Sandy: Verizon's West Street headquarters sit but a stone's throw from the World Trade Center. 

He described the "war time logistics” it took to repair Sandy’s damage, which flooded five subbasements that contained a network communications hub for the city. In the weeks that followed, he said the roar of water was replaced with the roar of the pumps.

The biggest challenge was replacing the fiber optics infrastructure, Levendos said. Much of the fiber optic systems in lower Manhattan today have been manufactured in just the past four months.

"We learn by example that cities, too, can die," Gautschi said, in closing the conference. "Let's resolve that this wonderful icon of New York, that means so much to so many, from Paris, to Shanghai, to Kansas City, let's keep it alive."

Founded in 1841, Fordham is the Jesuit University of New York, offering exceptional education distinguished by the Jesuit tradition to more than 15,100 students in its four undergraduate colleges and its six graduate and professional schools. It has residential campuses in the Bronx and Manhattan, a campus in West Harrison, N.Y., the Louis Calder Center Biological Field Station in Armonk, N.Y., and the London Centre at Heythrop College, University of London, in the United Kingdom.

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