East Hampton is prepared for the next hurricane, according to town and village officials. Since hurricane season is well underway—it began June 1—emergency personnel and elected officials have been gearing up for the next event, with memories of Superstorm Sandy in mind.
East Hampton Village Police Captain Michael Tracey, the village’s emergency preparedness coordinator, said that by and large, the biggest concern lies in communication—making sure everyone is on the same page and that village and town residents have the latest information.
To that end, Capt. Tracey and the town’s emergency preparedness coordinator, Bruce Bates, have been tweaking each municipality’s emergency plan and collaborating on how best to keep everyone in the loop. The Village Police Department has opened one of its training rooms as an emergency operations center as a hub of information and connectedness for both municipalities for nearly a decade. The department, which acts as dispatch for fire and ambulance across the town, also has its own mobile dispatch unit, used in case a tower goes out anywhere.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in May released its forecast for this year’s hurricane season, which predicted 13 to 20 Atlantic storms, seven to 11 of which are expected to become hurricanes, including three to six major hurricanes—an above average number, according to NOAA.
With an active weather forecast ahead of them, Capt. Tracey and Mr. Bates are hoping their joint efforts will keep the easternmost town in New York together.
“The system is advanced planning so you don’t sit around and wait for a hurricane or winter storm,” Capt. Tracey said. “Everybody knows what’s expected of them, which allows us to not be in a state of panic shortly before something is upon us.”
The village and town in conjunction have over the years put together a plan outlining the responsibilities of each official and department, including the fire, police, ambulance and highway departments. Capt. Tracey said the joint meetings, which occur a few times a year and more if necessary, really help get things in order. When the officials and emergency personnel meet, they meet at the emergency operations center at the East Hampton Village Emergency Services Building, go over the plan and discuss communications, timing, and ways to make their response better, faster and more fluid.
Mr. Bates said getting everyone together at the center is “extremely efficient,” especially when it’s go-time.
“When we take calls and questions, most of the answers are right there in the room,” he said. “Everyone is extremely happy with the way it goes.”
The EOC, as they call it, gives officials a direct line to meteorologists and other municipalities during a storm or emergency.
Mr. Bates said that even though things are ready to go, there’s always room for improvement.
“We found a little hiccup during [Superstorm Sandy] ,” he said. “We didn’t get enough information to all agencies so we’re coming up with different mechanisms to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
To make sure dispatch is keeping everyone, including the community, updated, East Hampton Village Police started a Twitter account, @EHVPD, two months ago.
According to Public Safety Dispatcher Gerard Turza Jr., the village also plans to update its website to include an emergency response and preparedness section.
“Especially for our tremendous transient population, the first thing people do in an emergency is go to different media outlets,” Capt. Tracey said. “Rather than taking 3,000 phone calls, these websites can answer a lot of questions.”
In times when power is shut off to radio towers, the village’s mobile dispatch unit can fill in the gaps.
“The vehicle can dispatch electronically, completely independent of the building’s paging capabilities,” Capt. Tracey said. “You have to assume everything is going to fail and you have to work backwards. That has kept us a head of the game. In every emergency that comes up, we find something that we could do better. If the public throws tomatoes at us, we take that as ‘How can we improve it?’ We’re patching and repairing any glitches in the system.”