Hurricane Preparedness Basics

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According to the National Hurricane Center, the Atlantic hurricane season begins on June 1 and ends on November 30. The season peaks during late summer, from the end of August through September. But as Hurricane Sandy showed last year, October is not off limits to intense hurricanes.

Compared to other areas of the northeast region, the East End fared reasonably well over the last two years, even with Tropical Storm Irene and Hurricane Sandy. But, with what appears to be a new weather trend of storms of increasing intensity, both Southampton and East Hampton towns have revamped and streamlined the protocols for storm response.

“We have completely revised the reference manual for how town agencies respond and how we interact with county and state agencies including FEMA,” deputy supervisor for the Town of Southampton, Frank Zappone, said during a telephone interview last week. “It was a major undertaking but it will improve emergency response times.”

The criteria for opening the emergency operations center is now clearly defined, Mr. Zappone said. It will be at the police department, and will be generator supported with sufficient technology sources to enable the town to stay connected with the county and the state even if power goes out. Three distinct levels of response have been created (levels 1, 2 and 3, with 3 being for the most severe need) and each has a different level of staffing and protocols for if and when the town supervisor declares an emergency.

East Hampton Town has streamlined its response system as well, according to Supervisor Bill Wilkinson. He reported that the town and the village will work together to bring everyone to the same table for hurricane responsiveness. Aside from Town workers, including police and fire department personnel, Mr. Wilkinson said that marine patrol and ocean rescue lifeguards have also been a part of emergency response drills.

“It’s become an incredibly efficient operation,” the East Hampton Town Supervisor said during a telephone interview last week from his office.

Mr. Wilkinson said that Hurricane Sandy taught the town administrators a lot last year. Some of the experimental pre-emptive strikes that were effective, such as dropping sand, are now part of protocol.

“Last year was the first time we tried to pre-empt Sandy by dropping sand at the road ends and that prevented, actually it saved, downtown Montauk last year,” Mr. Wilkinson recalled. “It prevented the ocean from ingress in that area, it’s a low-lying area. That is now in our bag of tools as a method for prevention during a hurricane.”

For this year’s season, East Hampton has invested in back-up generators as well.

“We put back-up generators at the community center in Montauk, the importance of that is we will be able to have a reliable shelter regardless of power outages,” Mr. Wilkinson reported.

Record keeping is another area addressed by East Hampton that Mr. Wilkinson said is extremely important. He said that changes have been made between sanitation, highway, police and other government agencies to keep better records, providing a better view of what actually happened and how much damage was done. According to Mr. Wilkinson, better record keeping will help provide FEMA with more accurate information for reimbursements.

Although both towns have tightened up emergency response protocol, the officials stressed the need for citizens to be prepared, pay attention, act smart and help others.

For those residents who live on the East End, Mr. Zappone discussed three categories of preparedness: be prepared, monitor communications and follow directions.

Being prepared is the first step, Mr. Zappone said. Each member of the household should have a “go bag” with a radio, batteries, an adequate supply of water, a place to store food that doesn’t need electric or gas to heat, and everything needed to get through at least a 24-hour period, including medications. The Southampton Town’s “Be Prepared” website also recommends having important documents and bank cards in a waterproof portable container, extra sets of car and house keys, a flashlight, light-weight rain gear, a first aid kit, lists of medicines and dosages, and contact and meeting information for the household.

It’s also a smart idea to keep an alternative phone charging device, such as a car-based phone charger, handy. Additionally, make sure to create a plan for keeping pets and animals safe before, during and after a storm.

Next, when a hurricane or tropical storm is coming, it’s important to pay attention to all levels of local communication, according to Mr. Zappone. Utilize the radio (get one that’s battery- or crank-operated), local internet news sites, Facebook and other social media, and local alert mechanisms, such as the Suffolk County CodeRED Emergency Notification System—sign up there for alerts at cne.coderedweb.com.

Last, follow directions when they are disseminated, he said. He stressed that evacuation requests and orders should be heeded.

“I know it’s hard, I live in that situation myself, I live in a flood zone,” the Southampton Town Deputy Supervisor said. “But when the authorities say to move out of the flood zone, you need to heed those instructions. They are not given frivolously. Pay attention when you get it.”

Another important thing that Mr. Wilkinson recommends citizens be wary of is the desire to go out and view Mother Nature at its worst. Many people want to go out and watch the storm without realizing how quickly it can turn bad.

“What happens and what we warn against is oftentimes … when a hurricane comes up, it becomes an event that people want to watch,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “They forget how dangerous it is, how dangerous those beaches are, and how quickly they can turn.”

One thing citizens need to be mindful of during emergency situations is their neighbors, especially the elderly and disabled. Mr. Wilkinson encouraged all residents to look after their neighbors, and to act neighborly.

“Act as a community rather than as individuals,” he said.

The Town of Southampton has a “Be Prepared” pocket guide which can be found online at southamptontownny.gov/filestorage/72/837/845/4904/pocketguide_Final_Web.pdf. Additional storm preparedness information can be obtained at southamptontownny.gov under the Emergency Preparedness drop-down tab.

The Town of East Hampton has drafted an emergency preparedness pamphlet, which is going through the final steps and should be published online in the next few weeks.

In addition to the Press’s website at 27east.com, other sources for hurricane preparedness and hurricane information updates during a storm include: SEA-TV Channel 22 and News12 on television and WLNG 92.1, WPPB 88.3, WPaT 93.1 in Spanish, WEHM 92.9 and 96.9 and WBAZ 102.5 on the radio.

In case of emergencies, for immediate danger, serious injury or a life-threatening medical condition, always call 911. The Southampton Town Emergency Management Team can be reached at 728-3405. The Southampton Town Senior Help Line is 728-1235. The East Hampton Town Emergency Services telephone number is 324-1736.

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