By Michael Turton
It is hurricane season once again, and events in the recent past are a reminder that Philipstown is not immune to the vagaries of Mother Nature — or to the need to plan for worst-case scenarios.
Last August, Tropical Storm Irene swept through the area, causing widespread flooding, downed trees and loss of electrical power while washing out roads and necessitating the dramatic rescue of residents from their homes. Fire halls doubled as shelters, and local officials set up a command center to coordinate responses to numerous emergency situations that arose.
Irene was by no means a one-off event. In September 1999, Hurricane Floyd was just as serious. At the end of October 2011, a freakish snowstorm left much of Philipstown without power for days. This week, Tropical Storm Isaac has been building, threatening to gain hurricane strength. The storm will undoubtedly head north, and the question is, as always, whether it will pose a threat to local residents. And if it does threaten this area, how well prepared will residents be?
While local elected officials, fire departments, ambulance corps and others are trained to respond during such emergencies, local residents and their families have an important role to play as well. At a recent meeting of the Philipstown Town Board, Arielle Ortiz, a coordinator with the American Red Cross, outlined steps that individuals should take to be prepared for emergency situations.
The backbone of what the Red Cross advises all families to do in order to prepare for serious emergencies comes down to three things: get a kit, make a plan and be informed. A wealth of detailed information, broken down by the type of emergency, is available at the American Red Cross website and provides a step-by-step plan that families can follow. A brochure highlighting the same information is also available at the Philipstown Town Hall. The following outlines some of the basics.
Create a kit
Red Cross actually recommends having two types of kits at the ready at all times: a “go bag” for each member of the family, containing basics if evacuation forces you to be out of your home for up to three days, and a more extensive kit to be kept in the home with up to a week’s worth of supplies.
“Go bags” can be kept in family vehicles or in an easy-to-reach place in the home. Backpacks are ideal. Contents should include water, non-perishable and easy-to-prepare food items, a flashlight, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, extra batteries, a first-aid kit and necessary medical items, a multipurpose tool, sanitation and personal hygiene items, copies of important personal documents such as a medication list and pertinent medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies, cellphones with chargers, family and emergency contact information, extra cash (since ATMs may not be working), an emergency blanket, and maps of the area.
A “go bag” is recommended for each family member because, depending on how the emergency unfolds, family members may leave the home at different times and possibly become separated.
Larger, home-based kits should include food and water to last up to a week, in case leaving home is not possible. In considering family needs, additional items might include medical supplies, baby supplies, pet supplies, two-way radios, a manual can opener, a whistle, N95 or surgical masks, matches, rain gear, towels, work gloves, tools for securing the home, extra clothing, a hat and sturdy shoes, duct tape, scissors, and blankets or sleeping bags. Emergency preparedness kits can be ordered online at redcross.org.
Make a plan
During an emergency is no time to start planning. Waters rose so quickly that residents rescued from homes along Clove Creek on Route 301 during Tropical Storm Irene had only minutes to vacate their homes. Meet as a family to create a plan suited your needs.
Choose two places to meet: right outside your home in case of a sudden emergency, such as a fire, or outside your neighborhood, in case you cannot return home or are asked to evacuate. Choose an out-of-area emergency contact person. Each family member should have emergency contact information in writing or saved on their cellphones. To be prepared for evacuation, decide where you would go and what routes can get you there. Practice evacuating your home and drive your planned evacuation route, plotting alternate routes on your map in case roads are impassable.
Also plan ahead for your pets. Keep a phone list of pet-friendly hotels/motels and animal shelters that are along your evacuation routes. If your community has experienced a disaster, register on the American Red Cross Safe and Well website to let your family and friends know you are safe. You may also call 1-866-GET-INFO to register yourself and your family.
Think about what kind of emergencies might affect the Philipstown area — certainly severe storms are not uncommon. Identify how local authorities will notify you during a disaster and how you will get information. A NOAA weather radio is a good investment. Make sure that at least one member of your household is trained in first aid and CPR. Print emergency contact cards for all household members including work, school and cellphone numbers. Have each family member carry the card with them so it is available in the event of an emergency.
Poor stats, promising apps
It’s difficult to argue against being prepared for emergencies, and yet a survey conducted by the Red Cross in 2011 found that less than half of Americans have assembled a preparedness kit; only 45 percent have identified an out-of-town contact; and only about one in four have practiced their emergency plan.
“Complacency is the biggest obstacle to families putting together an emergency plan. It seems all of our lives are busier these days … yet studies have shown that every dollar spent on preparedness saves $4 on disaster relief. Far too often we see the ‘mad dash’ to the grocery and hardware stores to clean the shelves of bread, milk and flashlights — why be a part of that?” said Sam Kille, regional communications director with the Red Cross.
Kille said that the Red Cross constantly looks for ways to make preparedness easier. “This summer we launched two new apps for smart phones. One puts first aid at your fingertips, showing you how to treat common injuries and illnesses, from broken bones to strokes. The other is dedicated to hurricane preparedness, including a shelter locator, flashlight, alarm, and a feature to let loved ones know you are safe,” he said. The apps are free for iPhone and Android smart phones and can be downloaded from the Apple and Google app stores.
Local officials continue to prepare
Local organizations and governments continue to prepare for emergencies as well. Matt Steltz, chief of the Cold Spring Volunteer Fire Department, said that all fire company members are required to take training in National Incident Management as are other local officials. Additional classes are also offered by Putnam County. Steltz said that while Tropical Storm Irene didn’t prompt any specific new training, it did cause him to reevaluate planning for “wires down” and other calls the company receives. “I reached out to Central Hudson, and they provided us with (information) on dealing with electrical hazards,” he said.
During Tropical Storm Irene, the Town of Philipstown set up an Emergency Operations Center at the North Highlands Fire Hall, which also served as a shelter for residents evacuated from their homes. Town Board member Nancy Montgomery said that the town doesn’t have a permanent EOC but that one can be established “anywhere there is phone and Internet access.”
She also said there are ongoing discussions with Putnam County and the Red Cross to develop “a coordinated effort among all departments including town, county and all emergency response organizations.” Montgomery said that she and fellow board member John VanTassel, recreation director Amber Stickle and other town officials will attend emergency response training in Alexandria, Va.
Asked if she and her family have an emergency plan in place, Montgomery said, “Of course we have an emergency plan. After almost a decade of Lovell boys (her sons) attending the Cold Spring Junior Fire Academy … we’d better!”
Meanwhile to the south, Isaac continues to rumble.