In light of extreme-weather events in 2011 and 2012, it is essential that residents take a more proactive and self-reliant approach to future storms. That was the message from Bruce Bates, the Town of East Hampton’s emergency preparedness coordinator, when he addressed the Amagansett citizens advisory committee on Monday.
The Red Cross cannot comprehensively address an Islandwide emergency, Mr. Bates said. Given the minor havoc Hurricane Sandy visited on the South Fork relative to western Long Island and Queens, that agency must direct its resources toward areas of greatest need.
That is why East Hampton High School was the only shelter established here during the Oct. 29 storm. “You can imagine on these conference calls with the other county emergency managers — they were going crazy trying to get shelters open,” Mr. Bates said. “The Red Cross does a great job, but they have limited resources. They have to do the best they can as far as filling the perceived need but not wasting their resources. That means if they can get one facility in the Town of East Hampton open that it is anticipated is going to allow more than the projected number of occupants, that’s what they’re going to do, rather than open two smaller facilities.”
“Getting assets and resources out here is difficult, at best,” Mr. Bates added. “It seems that when supplies are heading east, they seldom get past Yaphank or Riverhead.”
Last summer, Mr. Bates said, he met with the Red Cross’s director for emergency services, and they agreed to establish a shelter management and operations training program for town employees and anyone else who was interested in order to have a larger pool to draw from locally during emergencies.
“If we can’t get enough assets from the American Red Cross, the town would like to have enough available bodies to open these shelters on our own,” he said. That program, Mr. Bates said, is on a temporary hold given the Red Cross’s ongoing post-Sandy operations. “It’s still the ‘Wild West’ in other locations, but that will be out here and I will get that word out directly to the associations. If you’re interested, it’s available.” Also, he said, “It might not be the same shelter that opens every time. It might be area-specific.” For that reason, he urged all residents to monitor WLNG, LTV, and the town’s Web site.
“There’s a good chance that a lot of our residents are going to lose electricity, phone service, cable. That’s why we’re looking for everybody to have redundant sources of receiving information,” he said, asking all attendees to keep a battery-powered radio and spare batteries on hand. “Short of Armageddon, WLNG is almost always broadcasting.”
Another way to help is to minimize calls to emergency personnel. He cited inquiries from second-home owners during a crisis situation. “There is a good time and a bad time to ask certain questions. If they aren’t truly emergency questions or [concerning] fear of life and limb, we suggest that you, your friends, and family limit the amount of calls to the emergency dispatch centers or the town or village police.”
Mr. Bates also expressed some frustration that many of the town’s senior citizens are largely unknown to emergency personnel. “If you have friends or family members that either have special needs — perhaps they’re on oxygen, or dialysis — or are just an older person that lives alone that might need to be checked on, we’re encouraging everyone to speak with these people and suggest that they contact the town human services and put their name and phone number in there.” That goes for everyone else, he added. “Not all of Amagansett is here. You’ve got friends, family. Get this word out there. Make sure you have your supplies. Check your batteries, your radio, your staples. Do you have a flashlight?”
“We are not going to succeed in a big mission like this if we don’t have the public as partners. We’re going to try our best to meet every need of the residents of the Town of East Hampton, but if you folks, collectively, aren’t prepared for yourself, then we’re in a world of hurt.”