21 Aug 2014
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Irene Anniversary: Lessons Learned

Aug. 28 marks the one-year anniversary of the day Tropical Storm Irene swept through the area.

Irene Anniversary: Lessons Learned

By the time it reached the town of Bedford, Irene had been downgraded to a tropical storm, but its relentless rains and gusty winds , closed several roads and stranded residents behind felled trees and downed power lines during a four-day town that resulted in o

One year later, Patch asked local officials to and how it changed the town's approach to handling future emergencies.

Bedford Supervisor Lee V.A. Roberts said as a result of Irene—and the October snowstorm which followed—the town's leaders were more equipped to respond to emergencies.

She and other municipal and county officials pressed state transportation officials to aid in traffic issues that arise from power outages at major intersections such as the Route 35 and I-684 interchange.

"The Department of Transportation will now send staff to man these areas or bring a portable device to help out—they get it now that we don't have the manpower for that, and we need help in these busy areas," she said.

In addition, the town has since made plans for communicating important information to residents such as the availability of WiFi and access to power, dry ice and showers.

"If residents have no power we would distribute information through the local fire departments and libraries which became mini-centers for each hamlet during last year's storms," she said. Roberts said they would also consider using a reverse 911 phone system. If phone lines were out, she said the police department's Nixle alert service, which distributes information via email and text, could be employed to send communications to smart phones.

However, one obstacle to that plan is that not enough residents are signed up for the service.

"We have over 1,000 Nixle subscribers," said Police Chief William Hayes, who gave his department—and all of the volunteer emergency responders in town—high marks for their performance during the tropical storm.

"I wish we had more signed up; 1,000 out of 17,300 residents is a small number. I do hope to increase that number by publicizing the benefits of the service more, and we are also learning to tailor the types of messages that we put out based on community feedback," he added.

[You can sign up for Nixle here.]

Hayes added that the new communications capabilities at the would provide backup to the town and an opportunity to manage an inter-agency response effectively.

Roberts added that while the local utility companies because of the prolonged power outages, both Con Ed and NYSEG had made strides in the last year in their communications.

"For example, NYSEG's outage grid now better matches up with our municipal lines, where previously it was difficult to see where the outages were and what the restoration times would be," Roberts said. She said company officials have assigned more personnel to help in emergencies and have stepped up a tree pruning program to ensure fewer downed lines in the future.

While the storms served as a trial run for the town's emergency practices and ensured they had a cohesive team to handle the variety of tasks in ensuring the safety of residents, Roberts said she was still concerned about risks individuals may take after a devastating storm, such as hooking up generators at home without an electric professional or trying to get around downed power lines. 

"We don't want anyone to get hurt. We hope people can be patient and not take chances," she said.

Patch has reached out to NYSEG for comment on any changes to its practices and policies as a result of last year's storms. Check back this week for more on this story.

 

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