Irene Anniversary: Lessons Learned

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

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.


Donald Diamond August 28, 2012 at 06:31 PM
The anniversary coupled with the Republican convention shines a light on Republicans quest for a smaller government is committed to cutting funds to FEMA. Government is needed when disaster hits the population and the FEMA cannot come to the aid of the afflicted. It is analogous to their approach damning women to give birth when their life is at risk and they are rape victims.
pauline schneider August 29, 2012 at 04:40 PM
that's great. Do they have alternative power to run all that? I remember that the gas stations couldn't pump gas due to no power. All the emergency centers should have solar back up power as well as generators. One of the most frustrating things about Irene was that the cell phones did not work. The nixle system would not work in that case. What would work is short wave radios on battery power, or with crank power systems (really hard to find these days). Have they considered setting up communication centers with ham radios? The next big thing to prepare for are the solar flares coming this winter. They have been predicted to knock out all kinds of electrical and communication equipment. Has anyone considered some kind of back up power for Indian Point? More lessons to come.
pauline schneider August 29, 2012 at 04:44 PM
Yes, well it is the party that talks a great deal about FEMA death camps... Hard to take folks like that too seriously. Luckily our local town leadership, albeit conservative, is wise and compassionate and thinking ahead. Thank you Lee Roberts! :)
pauline schneider August 29, 2012 at 04:45 PM
pauline schneider August 29, 2012 at 04:58 PM
Across the country towns are taking preparations for disasters upon themselves. FEMA had to deal with hundreds (thousands?) of declared disasters last year and each one diminishes their ability to respond efficiently. We cannot be sitting ducks when the next disaster hits and we need to be thinking long term and outside the box. What kinds of disasters can we expect? Power outages, floods, communication grid collapse, fuel shortages, food shortages, medical shortages, heat waves, cold snaps, solar flares... We need to consider that each of these issues has the potential to deeply impact our community in numerous ways. Planning for a deeper level of response to them will assure our citizens that we can weather what WILL definitely be coming (we've already had most of these I listed), and that we can be a beacon for other communities that are/were not so forward thinking. Transition Towns across NY state are forming and across the nation & the globe where folks are working together to address these topics in their own ways, bottom up... Growing community gardens, setting up food storage, developing local power grids with sustainable energy, stocking up on hand tools (power tools wont work in a long term power outage), securing their water supply and building community through play, art and music. IMO that's simply genius.


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