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May 14, 2013 7:33 AM   Subscribe

"WNYC and The Record asked, separately, for documentation of NJ Transit’s hurricane preparedness plans. Both news organizations received the same reply: a three-and-a-half page document with the words “New Jersey Rail Operations Hurricane Plan” atop the first page. Everything else was blacked out."

During Superstorm Sandy, New Jersey Transit, the largest statewide transit agency in the country, in a series of bad decisions repeatedly ignored warnings, and decided to store its fleet in Hoboken and the Meadowlands Maintenance Complex in Kearny. It ended up losing over a quarter of its rolling stock, with $450 million in damage.

Governor Christie has downplayed the disaster, and no one at NJ Transit has been fired.
posted by 1970s Antihero (37 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Everything else was blacked out

Because the working plan was classified. What got implemented was not the obviously-would-have-worked plan. Implementing the classified would-have-worked plan means the secret of competent Government would have been out in the open and then EVERYONE would have wanted one.

(and remember - leaking classified documents is illegal per so many Metafilter comment posts over the years. So no leaking, just let the most transparent Government in the history of the multi-verse do its magic.)
posted by rough ashlar at 7:42 AM on May 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


A picture is worth a thousand words.

greg.org shines a light on the ironic beauty of it all:
The "New Jersey Rail Operations Hurricane Plan" was provided by the state agency in response to two separate Freedom Of Information Requests from WNYC and The Record.

The three-and-one-quarter-page plan was deemed exempt from FOIA and redacted completely. I don't think it diminishes the content in any way, nor our understanding of what happened to NJ Transit and its facilities and operations during the storm. In fact, it feels to me like it explains quite a lot.
Ad Reinhardt estate may sue for copyright infringement... or, more likely Sugimoto?
posted by snaparapans at 7:44 AM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, you can bitch about censorship, but do you really want this information in the hands of hurricanes?
posted by thelonius at 7:45 AM on May 14, 2013 [94 favorites]


The Hurricane Plan was to have a total blackout.
posted by srboisvert at 7:48 AM on May 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


The documents weren't redacted, they were just covered in black mold from the flood water.
posted by notme at 7:54 AM on May 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't quite understand why they redacted it, rather than just refusing to provide it. This will get much more press.
posted by smackfu at 7:57 AM on May 14, 2013


So no leaking, just let the most transparent Government in the history of the multi-verse do its magic.

You do understand that state governments are sovereign, independent entities that don't coordinate their own law making and governance with the federal government except in those cases when federal law specifically controls, right? Because it's not at all reasonable to blame problems with governance at the state-level with Big Government. Every state has its own rights and runs its own show. That's one of the things that so frequently ticks me off about how our political competency has degenerated in the US. People don't seem to understand that not all "government" is the same thing. A lot of the laws and regulations people find most flawed and burdensome are not under the authority of the federal government at all, but are set either at the state or municipal level.

Everybody in the US should have to take several years of civics courses and learn about the history of Federalism (the idea that every state government is sovereign and gets to decide how to implement the law except where the Federal government has a controlling, legally established right to set the law).

Obama, despite what you might believe, has no authority whatsoever over how transparent or competent the vast majority of governance in the US is. Even when the Federal government has the power to direct certain things, it's usually deferred to the independent state legislatures and executives to actually implement the policies.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:00 AM on May 14, 2013 [21 favorites]


Everything else was blacked out

Because TERRORISTS!!!11!, duh.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:11 AM on May 14, 2013


If you want to complain about Obama's administration being a disappointment, I think you want the DOJ / AP post from yesterday.
posted by smackfu at 8:14 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Surprisingly, the MTA did a fantastic job. With the exception of the South Ferry station, most of the subway service was back up very quickly.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:18 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have decided to believe that this was done due to fear of supervillains with diabolical machines which control the earth's weather and I thank you all in advance for not providing any evidence to the contrary.
posted by elizardbits at 8:22 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's like, how much more black could this be? and the answer is none. None more black.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:22 AM on May 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


With the exception of the South Ferry station

And the Rockaways.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 8:23 AM on May 14, 2013


I find it hard to believe that the 3.5 pages don't point off to a really remarkable amount of other documents that aren't being released; there just isn't the space to fit any complex plan here.
posted by jaduncan at 8:24 AM on May 14, 2013


They had a plan, but they tried to print it from one of the ticket machines and so they're still waiting for it to finish.

doo deeeeeeeeee doop, dee doo dee dvvvt
doo deeeeeeeeee doop, dee doo dee dvvvt
dgggghhhh rrrrrrrrrrrr, dee doo dee dvvvt

posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:25 AM on May 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


To quote spokesman John Durso "NJ Transit does not speak in hypotheticals".

That pretty much explains everything.
posted by Crash at 8:32 AM on May 14, 2013


Thing is - it's likely that no one will lose their job from this. And this is why the United States is so fucked.

Imagine you have an employee who completely fucks up. And when you ask why, she sends you back this document.

What would you do? You'd fire this person's ass all the way to the moon.

But time and again, we just aren't seeing this. Indeed, we see the most amazing fuckups - like 9/11 - and not only is no one fired, but almost everyone involved gets a promotion.

And these people work for us. We pay them out of our taxes. We control their jobs directly or indirectly through voting. They are supposed to be responsible to us.

Chris Christie seems to be ambitious for higher office. He's the only hope of a reasonable resolution to this - with "reasonable" meaning "a lot of people fired with extreme prejudice." (Remember - this isn't just fucking up - this is fucking up and then publicly refusing to cooperate in resolving what happened. I don't have to wait for any more fuckup in order to call for the people in charge to be fired...)

We're going to learn a bunch about Mr. Christie from this one. Stay tuned.

By the way, does anyone know if NJ Transit even has the legal right to black out documents under the FOAI?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:13 AM on May 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


roomthreeseventeen: "Surprisingly, the MTA did a fantastic job. With the exception of the South Ferry station, most of the subway service was back up very quickly."

That's a pretty big exception, and it's specifically the one station in the system that this really shouldn't have happened to (it was completely brand-new -- the MTA really can't use the excuse that the station was built with old risk assessments, old technology, or built on the cheap).

Also, don't forget that the SIR sustained a ton of damage too.

(But, yeah. The MTA definitely proved that it's come a long way from the days where it was the symbol of the city's corruption and incompetence. Given the incredible amount of damage that they suffered to their ancient and complicated system, it's amazing how quickly they were able to recover. NJT's got a reputation for being one of the better-run commuter railroads in the US, and that reputation is definitely going to take a hit as a result of their poor planing in advance of sandy Sandy.

Conversely, even outside of this one event, the MTA has been repeatedly demonstrating amazing levels of competence and transparency, even in light of really major fuck-ups. While it's preferable to never be the victim of a self-inflicted disaster, the MTA showed an amazing level of transparency and quickly took steps to prevent similar problems from ever happening again, after their long series of screw-ups that pretty much shut down the Long Island's entire transit system on 9/29/11)
posted by schmod at 9:16 AM on May 14, 2013


By the way, does anyone know if NJ Transit even has the legal right to black out documents under the FOAI?

FOIA only applies to the Federal government Lupus. Every state government has authority to define its own rules about how information is disclosed (or not, as the case may be). Florida, for example, has its Sunshine Law--but many states are governed by much less stringent requirements.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:37 AM on May 14, 2013


no one will lose their job from this

And how would one propose addressing this? Vot'n ain't doing the job it would seem.
posted by rough ashlar at 9:37 AM on May 14, 2013


Well, you might try paying attention to whose running your state government occasionally. The people of New Jersey are supposed to be responsible for hiring and firing their own officials.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:38 AM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


But were the one-quarter of trains they lost the new double-decker trains with power outlets, or the old trains they only run during off-peak hours? Because that's one way to finally get the funds to upgrade your equipment...
posted by subdee at 9:53 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


> And how would one propose addressing this? Vot'n ain't doing the job it would seem.

Well, I don't really have any idea. In this specific case, if you live in New Jersey, I think sending letters to the governor's office would be an excellent start, because, as I mentioned, he's ambitious for higher office, but overall, I really don't have a clue.

All the things that I thought were effective when I was young - grass-roots activism, supporting young candidates who seemed to have a moral center, relentlessly contacting your representatives - all of these have proven to have very limited effectiveness, because there's a filter in place that simply prevents anyone who might actually change anything from advancing in the two main political parties, and a second filter to prevent any other political party from advancing.

I do secretly wonder what would happen if people simply started to vote third-party anyway out of disgust. Thank Goodness there are so many institutions like Metafilter that will crush that idea into the ground, who knows what would happen otherwise?

God, I hope Elizabeth Warren lives up to her promise... I can't think of much hope in the political field right now aside from her.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:54 AM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Heh, and re-reading the article, I can see that the reason they won't reveal their fuckups is "because terrorism" - the universal excuse for anything!

God, I wish Americans would just develop the slightest backbone on the issue of terrorism - it's really colored my perception of this country, which I now see mainly as a cowardly bully.

And this line made me particularly mad for the second time: "Please be advised, there has not been an update to the NJ TRANSIT Hurricane Plan and therefore no such records exist." The biggest fuckup in the history of the organization, and six months later they have made no changes in their procedure whatsoever - and they're arrogant about this.

Fire their fucking asses RIGHT NOW.

Interestingly enough, the phone number of the guy who emitted this report is right on the original link. Even though I live in New York City, I think I'm going to give him a call...

and perhaps even a letter to Chris Christie, if he really has national ambitions he needs New York City v... oh, wait, I live in New York State and under the current rules there's zero chance anyone voting in New York State can have the slightest effect on any Presidential ambitions, but I'll send him something anyway - it can't hurt.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:04 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Part of the reason grass-roots activism seems so ineffective in the US is that we've got a system designed to decentralize power. It's hard to solve any particular problem everywhere at once, because no one answers to any one central authority except when it comes to a certain limited subset of things (national defense, being the most obvious; interstate commerce being another).

So it's basically a result of the fact that we have a system with such a limited federal government in the first place that it's hard to enact sweeping changes at all levels of society. The fact that Federalism requires us to give the states broad latitude generally in governing themselves makes it all but impossible to keep states from going their own way and subverting universal laws we might all otherwise agree on. That's both a curse and a blessing, at various times. Look what it took to get all the states on the same page about what the rules should be in the civil war era--it took a war. That's because the constitution doesn't give the power to the federal government to force the states to accept much of anything--the best it can do, in many cases, is offer or refuse money to the states to spend on particular problems.

Here in Florida, the legislature recently decided they didn't even want to take the Federal government's money (even though that money came at least partly from taxes levied on the people of Florida) to fully fund medicare in the state when it was offered, preferring to "take a stand against Federal dollars" and adopt a plan that offered benefits to fewer people and cost the state more!
posted by saulgoodman at 10:16 AM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


(Not to mention things like the state of North Carolina banning the use of climate change research in policy-making and now attempting to ban sales of the Tesla.)

also previous comment should strike "medicare" and sub "medicaid." /self-flagellation
posted by saulgoodman at 10:35 AM on May 14, 2013


Obama, despite what you might believe, has no authority whatsoever over how transparent or competent the vast majority of governance in the US is.

Very true, but the fact that NJ is a rather blue state makes for a bit of a "guilt by association" argument that's at least strong enough for satire. ;)
posted by MoTLD at 11:03 AM on May 14, 2013


I have decided to believe that this was done due to fear of supervillains

On first read, I thought that said "fear of surveillance," and immediately thought of the AP scandal.
posted by MoTLD at 11:06 AM on May 14, 2013


that's one way to finally get the funds to upgrade your equipment...

So, the first redacted line said "park all our crappiest equipment directly in the storm's path" and the last line said "redact upon reading."
posted by MoTLD at 11:09 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


There once was a man from [REDACTED]
Whose policies XXXXXXX enacted.
Through a [CLASSIFIED] clause
They [TOP SECRET] the laws,
And had all of their honor extracted.

(By our very own The White Hat!)
posted by Pyrogenesis at 11:12 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


But really, it's an understandable mistake that has happened before. Don't blame people for their good intentions.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 11:16 AM on May 14, 2013


This is for your own good. It turns out that the plan contains too much information about various SCPs.
posted by adipocere at 11:22 AM on May 14, 2013


Followup article from The Record: Because TERRORISTS
“Recent events including the uncovering of an al-Qaida-led ­terrorist plot targeting rail service reinforces why NJ Transit will not disclose sensitive information that could potentially undermine the security of our transit infrastructure, our customers or our employees.”
posted by 1970s Antihero at 11:27 AM on May 14, 2013


This makes perfect sense if the hurricane response plan is actually the same plan as the terrorist response plan, which is basically, flail around and be deciders until it goes away.
posted by feloniousmonk at 12:26 PM on May 14, 2013


And how would one propose addressing this? Vot'n ain't doing the job it would seem.
Well, I don't really have any idea.


Alas, neither do I. I do like the idea of dragging public officials before Grand Juries but that got jacked in the 1920's when some corrupt NY supreme court members ended up doing jail time.

Almost any of the ideas to attempt to address the 'fire the public workers for misconduct/job failure' seem to have an endpoint of some members of the 'government worker class' placing the people who complain about government workers in the 'select these complainers for compliance checks' audit category. Given the volume of "laws" - how long does one want to fight for your rights in a courtroom?

An example:
One person I know of who works for the State tax audit department would, every year like clockwork, got written up by the local building code enforcement for "not cleaning his/her gutters" until the city alderman was replaced. (1st hand testimony)

Another 'made trouble' and sued the city over a broken water pipe that screwed up his foundation. End result? The city declared his lot a wetland and so now to have a mortgage he has to have flood insurance. No one else on the block has this kind of 'special love'. (3rd hand. My friends father's home was the chain)
posted by rough ashlar at 2:55 PM on May 14, 2013


This is what happens when you let The Scorpions make public policy. You get rocked by a hurricane, and wind up with a blackout.
posted by scrump at 12:24 PM on May 16, 2013


I am not sorry
posted by scrump at 12:24 PM on May 16, 2013


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