By Amanda Wyatt
As hurricane season nears, elected officials on the East End are joining forces with the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) to better prepare residents for whatever wicked weather may come our way.
Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr., Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Shelter Island Town Supervisor Jim Dougherty are all slated to join LIPA’s Chief Operating Officer, Michael Hervey, at the upcoming East End Hurricane Preparedness Seminar.
The event, which is scheduled for Thursday, July 26 at 6 p.m., will take place at the Hampton Library in Bridgehampton.
“I think based on last year’s experience with Tropical Storm Irene, there’s room for improvement in our response to hurricanes and tropical storms,” Thiele said in an interview. “And that’s why I’ve joined together with the East End towns and LIPA to present this seminar.”
“One of the purposes of this meeting, from my perspective, is to hear what LIPA has done to upgrade and improve their storm response plan,” admitted Thiele. “I thought last year that their communication with the public was somewhat lacking.”
Thiele went on to say it would help “demonstrate, particularly in LIPA’s case, what lessons were learned through the failures that occurred last year.”
Last August, the East End was battered by the outer bands of Tropical Storm Irene, which was downgraded from hurricane strength just prior to coming ashore. Long Island dodged a bullet in the form of the flooding which destroyed whole communities in upstate New York. However, in the aftermath of Irene, many residents across Suffolk County were left without power, some for well over a week.
“It was very difficult even for elected officials to get information about what LIPA was doing during the response to the storm,” said Thiele. “I think the linemen and the personnel who were on the ground fixing the power lines did a good job.”
In an interview, Supervisor Wilkinson said LIPA has been working to correct past communication issues.
“Mike Hervey had several meetings and briefings both up the island and locally to ensure that the troops on the ground are getting the appropriate direction from the command structure,” said Wilkinson.
“LIPA continues to identify and implement new measures to improve our storm communications and restoration procedures — such as our mobile web site and texting service to report and receive outage information from handheld devices — as well as enhanced coordination with municipalities on tree and debris removal,” said Hervey in a press release issued last week.
“In addition, I encourage residents to start preparing now to reduce the effects of any natural disaster and plan for a multi-day outage,” added Hervey. “This includes planning a hurricane route, preparing an emergency kit, and making sure you are able to stay connected to the latest weather reports and emergency broadcast.”
While LIPA has worked on its own preparedness initiatives, so have local governments. According to Supervisor Wilkinson, East Hampton has “gone through rather extensive incident command training in the past year.”
He said East Hampton works essentially “as one unit under the Emergency Operations Center.” The police department, parks and highway division, human service department, marine patrol, and even volunteer ocean rescue are all involved in hurricane preparedness.
Wilkinson mentioned the town had purchased new generators for backup power, just in case there are any issues with existing generators.
“As we get closer and closer to August with the water being as warm as it is, we have to be especially diligent this year,” he said.
“Preparation is essential to our ability to manage the impacts of major storm events,” added Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst in the press release issued announcing the event. “As we were reminded by Tropical Storm Irene last fall, our area is prone to power outages during high wind events.”
According to Thiele, representatives at the seminar will discuss how the towns work with their fire departments, ambulance services and police departments in preparing for emergencies.
“It will be an opportunity for the towns to get out the information early, before a storm, about how they would address some of these emergencies,” he explained.
Thiele added the seminar would help people create an information package in preparation for tropical storms or hurricanes.
“I think it’s important that one way or another people get information and have their own individual plans, depending on where you live,” said Thiele. “It’s important each individual household know what they’re going to do in case of a storm, if the power goes out.”
“We’re working together on an intergovernmental basis to get people as much information as they can,” added Thiele. “There will certainly be a lot of useful information for people to incorporate in their own plans.”
Wilkinson agreed, saying it was important “continue to prepare and continue to share information, and to keep it fresh, keep it topical, and keep it in front of the public’s eyes.”
“I don’t think there’s a time, especially when you deal with hurricanes, that you can be over-prepared and you can over-communicate,” said Wilkinson.