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No need to be a hurricane to wreak havoc

The two most destructive weather events in recent history on Long Island weren’t even hurricanes. Sandy (2012) and Isaias (2020) were downgraded to tropical storms by the time they swept over our area, having lost the appellation because their top sustained winds had dropped below 74 mph.

But as residents found out in both cases, a tropical storm can do much damage. Isaias, in early August, left more than 400,000 PSEG-Long Island residents without power, some for more than a week.

The American Red Cross on Long Island hosted a hurricane preparedness press conference at the beginning of the hurricane season at its Mineola headquarters.

Interim CEO Joe Spaccarelli stated, “As we enter what is expected to be another active hurricane season we want to remind our neighbors that now is the time to create or update a family preparedness plan.”

He added, “Long Islanders know all too well it only takes one storm to seriously disrupt our lives.”

Hurricane experts expect 2021 to possibly match 2020, which saw a record number of named storms.

“Last year, extreme weather events created the largest number of billion-dollar disasters to strike the US in one year,” Spaccarelli observed. “Dozens of Red Cross volunteers from here on Long Island deployed far from home to provide relief across the country. The skills and experiences that they gained responding to these major disasters will be invaluable in the event that there will be a storm here on Long Island.”

This NASA satellite captured Hurricane Sandy battering the East coast on Monday, Oct. 29 at 9:10 a.m. EDT. Tropical storm force winds extend almost 500 miles from the center, making those winds 1,000 miles in diameter. (NASA GOES Project | CC BY 2.0)

He noted that disaster training has been updated and supplies have been replenished in preparation for any upcoming disasters. He called on Long Islanders to join as volunteers to distribute food, water and relief items and also manage and staff emergency shelters to provide help and emotional support and more.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran thanked the Red Cross “for not only jumping into action when it’s needed, but being preventive and proactive as much as possible.” After acknowledging her Office of Emergency Management Commissioner Steven Morelli, the executive praised the coordination and cooperation across the various agencies and public utilities.

“We’re in this together,” she said. “We have these relationships already with all these other entities so that when an emergency happens we can jump into action. We do know that it’s going to be an above-average hurricane season. It’s hard to make these predictions and we don’t know what Mother Nature is going to wallop at us.”

Curran urged residents to be as prepared as possible and think of things such as what documents to take in case of evacuation or what to do with their pets.

She also warned people that buy home generators to exercise caution, as she talked of reports of people dying from carbon monoxide poisoning or starting fires because the generators were not set up properly or were placed in unvented areas.

New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Executive Deputy Commissioner Terence O’Leary praised the cooperative effort with the Red Cross, calling it “an extremely strong partner of the state and a member of the state Disaster Preparedness Commission. It is the only non-state entity that is a member of the commission that oversees emergency response in New York State.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s aim, according to O’Leary, is for the state and counties to partner to “build back better and prepare for the next disaster. Combined, we have spent almost $14 billion to create a more resilient electrical infrastructure, to rebuild roads and other infrastructure, as well as to create stronger and better resiliency tools to make sure that we’re ready for the next storm. It’s also very important for New Yorkers to be ready themselves. And as you heard already, that includes making a plan, and knowing what you’re going to do when disaster strikes.”

He gave an example of the details that make a difference: people stock up on non-perishable foods to ride out the storm at home, he pointed out, but then lack a humble hand can opener in case the power goes out.

”These are the things that the planning process will help you get ready with,” O’Leary said. “After you prepare a kit and have a plan, be aware what’s going on. Sign up for your local alerts. New York has an alert plan. You can find it at alert.ny.gov.”

O’Leary admitted that there could be a case of volunteer fatigue after the struggle of the pandemic, but urged people to volunteer.

“[We’re now in] hurricane season, so you never know when you’ll be called upon. The sooner you step up and help out the American Red Cross and other partners, the better we’ll all be,” he concluded.

Among the other speakers were two representatives from Long Island’s main utilities.
National Grid Downstate NY Gas Field Operations Vice President Aaron Choo thanked the Red Cross “for the tremendous partnership we’ve had over the years and we continue to build on that.” He also included the governments as well as the police and fire departments in the list of partners.

“We do conduct simulated drills over the (course of) the year to include different emergencies,” Choo said. “We filed our New York State emergency plan for the year and we have submitted that to our Public Service Commission. Following Sandy, we installed the first storm-hardening valve in the country and that will prevent gas from coming into the home in the event of a flood. There’s a sensor valve that will send a relay back to our gas control to monitor that and in doing so keep the customer safe as well as the infrastructure and reduce the time for restoration.”

PSEG Long Island Transmission & Distribution Vice President John O’Connell, who is also an American Red Cross board member, said his company “has been working aggressively to upgrade our systems and processes and we are ready for this year’s storm. Just as the Red Cross is on the front line of preparedness, PSEG Long Island and its employees are on the front line, helping our neighbors and customers before, during and after the storm.”

He added, “To minimize outages, we have worked hard over the course of seven years to strengthen our infrastructure with new programs and increase maintenance programs. We’ve storm-hardened more than 450 miles of the power grid on the mainline facilities all the way from the Rockaways to Shelter Island. Additionally, we trimmed wires and trees to keep clearances and avoid tree damage during storms. We’ve literally trimmed thousands of miles of trees away from our power lines.”

O’Connell concluded, “We have plans to deal with the challenges that the hurricane season may throw at us and we urge everyone, as you heard earlier today, to be ready and to prepare.”

The Red Cross encourages residents to visit www.redcross.org for information on volunteering and preparing an emergency plan and an emergency supply kit.

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Frank Rizzo is a journalist at Anton Media Group. With decades of experience in the industry, he is exceptionally equipped to cover local politics, business and other topics that matter to readers.

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