Teams from Larchmont/Mamaroneck, Westchester County and the Red Cross have made substantial progress in disaster response capabilities since the spring floods three years ago, speakers told a meeting of the Local Summit on May 18th at the Nautilus Diner. The meeting was chaired by Mariana Boneo, a 2007 flood disaster assistance coordinator.
Key areas of progress cited were: close working relationships and better service delivery among participating governments and agencies, more effective communications systems, and better emergency shelter capabilities.
Details of the improvements were related by Michael Liverzani, emergency management coordinator in Mamaroneck Town and head of the Tri-Municipal Community Response Team (CERT); Noah Goldberg, emergency program specialist with Westchester County Emergency Services; and Ed Merians, chairman of the Westchester County Chapter of the American Red Cross.
New Emergency Notification System
Mr. Liverzani said that under a new emergency notification system his group can dispense immediate disaster information by land phone, cell phone and e-mail to all residents in the Town of Mamaroneck. Larchmont has a similar system. Also, when needed, the information can be directed solely to specific neighborhoods affected. Further, during an emergency notification, residents will be given the phone number for special phone lines recently obtained. At that point, residents will be able to call the Emergency Management Team for help or additional information and be able to count on a human response. Residents in Mamaroneck Village have similar services through an arrangement with Westchester County’s Emergency Operating Center.
Mr. Merians said that having fast information is vital in such cases as a toxic spill on I-95. A nearby resident may have five minutes or less to learn whether to evacuate. He also reminded the audience that in an extended emergency a telephone land line is particularly useful as cell phone and cell tower operations will be limited by battery life. He also praised the role United Way plays during disaster recovery with its 211 emergency number, which relieves pressure on the Red Cross.
Improved Emergency Shelter Operations
During the 2007 floods many families which had to evacuate sought shelter at Mamaroneck High School. Since that time, the ability to operate this and a second shelter has been improved. The Red Cross has parked a trailer full of blankets, cots, food, water and other necessities in Mamaroneck, sufficient to accommodate 300 victims. The school does not have a large emergency generator, but Westchester has recently purchased generators that may be available. Similarly, the school shelter and other locations may be able to use large sump pumps purchased by the County to alleviate possible flooding.
Mr. Liverzani said his group has trained 60 volunteers in shelter operations and is seeking to train more.
Mr. Merians noted that one of the problems in handling emergencies is the lack of local affordable workforce housing. When he was a youngster growing up in town, he recollected, many of the firemen and policemen lived locally. Now many of these people and others key to efficient emergency response live in Rockland and other distant places. The extra time it takes for them to travel here could be a critical shortcoming under certain circumstances.
Planning and Resource Management
Westchester has been responsible for inter-community resource management, evacuation planning and broader planning, Mr. Goldberg said. The County keeps track of emergency capabilities and assets in every locality and assists communities in getting needed help from one another on a reciprocal basis. The County stockpiles shelter equipment, food and water in various locations and holds multi-community and multi-agency emergency drills and training. It has set up five weather stations in Westchester to monitor hazardous conditions and distribute information before, during and after weather related emergencies. It is in the process of buying a mobile hospital and radiological testing equipment.
Audience member Carolyn Pomeranz asked the speakers what would happen if a huge disaster required widespread evacuation. They agreed this problem is not yet fully resolved. Mr. Liverzani said that the roads in Westchester are so intertwined that it “would be mind boggling” to figure out how to avoid major delays.
Mr. Goldberg said that one of the County’s jobs was to seek federal compensation after major disasters. Westchester applied for funds for homeowner compensation after the last major storm, but was turned down because there were fewer than the required 100 badly damaged and uninsured houses. However, the County believes there will be approval for federal funds to reimburse municipalities for services during that storm.
Other Emergencies Tips
- Most residents should plan to be self-reliant in terms of food, water and medicine for at least 5 days after an emergency because official aid will go to the most stricken victims first.
- Mr. Merians said the likelihood of toxic contamination coming from I-95 is many times more probable than from the Indian Point nuclear operation.
- As part of packing your emergency “Go Bag” stock substantial cash because when power goes out credit cards and cash machines won’t work.
- After a Category 3 hurricane, local hospitals will be jammed with victims from nearby Bronx as well as Westchester. Hospital downsizing is a problem.
- To the degree possible, plan so you can remain in your own home during an emergency. But if you can’t, seek safety with family or friends out of the area —shelters are a lifeboat, not a cruise ship.
- Home electric power generators require special care. Improper wiring can cause a fire. Running one in the garage or near an open window can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
A good source of emergency information is: www.ready.gov. An “Emergency Information Handbook” produced by New York State can be obtained through the Westchester County Office of Emergency Management, 914-864-5450.
The Local Summit is an informal community council that seeks to make the community a better place for everyone. Its monthly meetings are held at 7:45 am on the third Tuesday of the month at the Nautilus Diner in Mamaroneck. Mr. Wolfson is a member of the Summit.