David Stone
Tiger Dam installed at Brookfield Place, Lower Manhattan.
Tiger Dam installed at Brookfield Place, Lower Manhattan.
Photo courtesy of US Flood Control

Memories of Super Storm Sandy returned as Tamara Andreatta, RIOC's Director of Asset Management, drove a group of us around Roosevelt Island while Frank Farance narrated, pointing out the storm's high water marks, some still visible on building foundations. Tiger Dams may help us withstand worse future storms as failures elsewhere make them inevitable.

Kevin Brown, Deputy Chief at the Public Safety Department - where emergency management plans are being developed - shared the rear seat with Cheryl Witmer, Easter Regional Sales Manager for US Flood Control, the makers of Tiger Dams, and me.

Before the tour, Cheryl Witmer for US Flood Control preps with Tamara Andreatta and Frank Farance.
Before the tour, Cheryl Witmer for US Flood Control preps with Tamara Andreatta and Frank Farance.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

On October 29th, 2012, Roosevelt Islanders watched the East River rise to a level few of us ever imagined. Looking out my sixteenth floor window in Manhattan Park, I watched in amazement as the storm surge swelled up and over the FDR.

Water crept up to surround our building, my understanding of the East River as a tidal strait, not a river at all, never more clear.

The Atlantic could consume us under the right conditions, and that night, we weren't far from them.

Are Tiger Dams the Answer for Roosevelt Island Flood Control? RIOC Explores

Farther north, things got worse. Lighthouse Park disappeared into a sea overrunning Hallet's Cove and Hell Gate. Flooding forced Coler Hospital off the electric grid, and The Octagon, with water at the first floor level, lost power too.

"Over eight million New Yorkers all have different memories from that fateful night, when Sandy’s record storm surge slammed against the city’s shore, causing billions of dollars in damage, plunging the city into darkness, and ultimately killing 43 people," reported the Huffington Post, a week later.

The result of smart construction, little critical equipment in basements, Roosevelt Island fared pretty well, not without damages, but none that were major. No lives were lost or serious injuries reported.

But for any of us who thought this wake up call would spark action on climate controls to mitigate similar future events were as unrealistically optimistic as Pollyanna's. Unlike Pollyanna, we don't live in a world of fiction.

Fierce opposition from conservatives and anti-science polemicists limited proactive efforts in the U.S. and around the world. By 2017, President Trump, who's called climate change a Chinese hoax, was working to dismantle as much of the progress made as possible through delayed action and executive orders.

That leaves it to localities to protect themselves, and RIOC's found a potentially valuable partner in US Flood Control and its Tiger Dams.

Tiger Dam set up by ConEdison in Jamaica, Queens.
Tiger Dam set up by ConEdison in Jamaica, Queens.
Photo Courtesy of US Flood Control

Credit goes to Farance, a member of Roosevelt Island's CERT team, for initiating action.

"I did the NYCEM (New York City Emergency Management) Interim Flood Prevention Exercise a month ago in Red Hook where Tiger Dams were used to prevent flooding, which involved deploying approximately 1 mile of Tiger Dam tubing," he wrote to RIOC President/CEO Susan Rosenthal.

Farance arranged the tour with US Flood Control manager Witmer, and I tagged along to see what I could learn and to gauge RIOC's interest.

Flood control planning hadn't gotten far beyond discussions about building earthen berms at strategic locations and an understanding that tall seawalls aren't the right answer, esthetically or effectively. Imagine Lighthouse Park as a giant bathtub, its sides blocking views of everything on either shore in fair weather.

Something effective but unobtrusive, fast and easy to deploy is called for, and Tiger Dams, now in use around the world, may be the answer for us.

Rosenthal sent a top manager from PSD and her Director of Asset Management to find out. Brown and Andreatta volunteered a RIOC vehicle for the tour, Andreatta at the wheel.

What's a Tiger Dam?

A Tiger Dam is made up of one or more flexible polypropylene tubes, filled with water. 

"The dams are manufactured in 50ft sections," Witmer told The Daily. "We carry 18”, 24”, 36” and 42” diameters. They interlock seamlessly to create a barrier of any length, and they are stackable from one foot to 32 feet."

Here's a demonstration of Tiger Dam installation from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.


In New York City, having learned a lesson from Sandy, Battery Park City bought a Tiger Dam in 2012. To stay fresh, US Flood Control comes in once a year for training exercises.


Cheryl Witmer with Frank Farance and Keven Brown in Lighthouse Park, site of worst flooding on Roosevelt Island.
Cheryl Witmer with Frank Farance and Keven Brown in Lighthouse Park, site of worst flooding on Roosevelt Island.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Failures in climate control assure us that a storm greater than Sandy is likely to hit New York City. It's impossible to know when. It could be years or weeks away. We do know that emergency planning can help protect our buildings, parks and other resources.

Better informed now about Roosevelt Island, Witmer hopes to take up discussions with RIOC, which will need to work cooperatively with building owners to create mutually satisfactory solutions. Tiger Dams are already available on a New York State OGS contract, which reduces hurdles in purchasing.

An Emergency Management community meeting is on the schedule for September 13th at Good Shepherd Community Center, coordinated by PSD Chief Jack McManus. Farance hopes to nudge things far enough along to make Tiger Dams a part of the agenda.