By Ellen Frankman
In May, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued its 2013 Atlantic hurricane outlook warning that the United States could be struck by up to six major hurricanes this year.
Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster for NOAA explained that there is a “possibility that the season could be extremely active,” as indicated by a 70 percent chance for an above normal season.
In what Bell referred to as a “high-activity era” between 1995 and 2012, the number of hurricanes has increased by 60 percent, with storms like Hurricane Sandy running up more than $50 billion in damages. Now, as the East End of Long Island wades its way into the third month of hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30, government officials are hunkering down on preparations in order to best fend off what could be a disruptive next couple of months.
“When we are in the zone of a hurricane we meet with North Haven Village and others and start to prepare with fire, ambulance and police,” said Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride. “We prepare right down to 24 hours.”
Though many were caught off guard by the intensity and destruction of Hurricane Sandy, Gilbride believes Sag Harbor was, for the most part, well-prepared.
“We had some flooding in the back streets because there were three tide changes,” said Gilbride.
Because of the flooding, Sag Harbor is looking into acquiring a large pump, approximately six inches wide, with the ability to pump thousands of gallons of water per hour should a storm hit again to similar effects. The pump would be on wheels so that it could be moved wherever flooding arose. The village may also purchase a second generator for such emergencies. Both tools would be bought with the help of grant money, some of which has already been applied for, and from the funds received from storm damage.
Gilbride explained that one major success in the handling of Hurricane Sandy was Sag Harbor Village’s coordination with local tree companies, who were out on the streets working to clear blocked roads and tangled wires as soon as it was safe.
“It got LIPA out to us much quicker,” said Gilbride.
“Hurricane and emergency preparedness is something we train for on year-round basis in Southampton Town,” said Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst.
With the start of hurricane season in June, the town has begun holding department head meetings to discuss storm roles and protocols.
Throne-Holst believes the town functioned well during Hurricane Sandy, from effectively coordinating evacuations to keeping the community apprised of the nature and path of the storm.
“Also, our planning and public safety departments led an exceptionally efficient effort to identify, evaluate and report damage to individual properties immediately after the storm,” said Throne-Holst. “Collecting that information is crucial to helping other levels of government fully understand the extent of local damage and allocate their resources accordingly.”
East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson believes the number one lesson learned from Hurricane Sandy is to take nothing for granted.
“Being over prepared is better than being underprepared,” he said.
Wilkinson adds that because Sandy left such an expansive path of destructive, East Hampton Town struggled during the storm to secure enough shelters extending out to Montauk. This summer, shelter readiness has been a crucial component in preparing for coming storms. Wilkinson says the fire department in Montauk has also been increasingly engaged and communicative in making emergency preparations.
“We rely a lot on the fire departments, especially when we have to notify people that they should evacuate low lying areas,” said Wilkinson.
Wilkinson also noted that a generator has been purchased that will be housed at the Montauk Playhouse Community Center.
“We’ve had a temporary generator in the past, but this time we have gotten a donation and were able to get a permanent one,” he said. The generator needs only to be hooked up electrically and should be up and ready-to-run within the next few weeks.
According to the supervisor, citizen awareness has also increased since Hurricane Sandy, as residents become more actively involved in passing on information to neighbors and those that might need additional help in the event of a storm.
But Wilkinson emphasized that town employees are perhaps the most important and effective communicators in the time leading up to and during a hurricane, and employees should be prepared to tackle tasks outside of the scope of their positions in order to best help out.
“There is a greater coordination throughout the safety teams of the town so the employees know specifically now what is expected of them during a storm,” said Wilkinson. “People gave a reliance on the town to be there for them.”
And according to Wilkinson, the town is.