Extreme weather sparks need for comprehensive LI emergency plan

A New York State DOT plow is stuck A New York State DOT plow is stuck on the Long Island Expressway near exit 63. (Feb. 9, 2013) Photo Credit: James Carbone

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Joye Brown Newsday columnist Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has ...

Why did officials shut down the Long Island Expressway in the midst of last week's monster snowstorm rather than hours before?

Why didn't the region's largest employers, in some coordinated fashion, dismiss nonessential personnel before safe travel became almost impossible?

And why did so many Long Islanders end up having to abandon their vehicles during the worst of the storm? Where were they going? And would there have been some way to get them there earlier?

Last week's snowstorm -- especially for Suffolk County, where some towns were still digging out Monday -- was one for the recent record books.

Just like superstorm Sandy.

And those came after Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 and after last winter, one of the warmest on record. What if extreme weather, rather than being an aberration, is, in fact, on the way to becoming Long Island's new norm because of global warming?

advertisement | advertise on newsday

"We've had two 100-year storms in 100 days," Lawrence Levy, executive dean of Hofstra University's National Center for Suburban Studies, said Monday. "We've never been forced to consider the implications of that."

Just as in Sandy, neighbors came together after the snowstorm to help each other, even taking on municipalities' jobs in working to clear unplowed streets.

That's why Long Island needs to draft a plan to deal with extreme weather.

The plan should include enough community input so that Long Islanders are comfortable taking weather-related warnings seriously rather than shrugging them off merely as forecasters' educated guesses.

Yes, sometimes the forecasts are wrong; but for Irene and Sandy and last week's blizzard, the impact on some areas was worse than predicted -- which in itself represents a reason to closely follow whatever warnings come next.

Yes, 3 feet of snow in some neighborhoods was more than municipalities had expected. Yes, too many municipalities got moving late. And it's to be expected that it might take more than a couple of days to clear every residential road.

But could things have been better with more comprehensive planning on all levels, from government, to businesses and residents?

We need to start drafting a plan now.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

A portion of the Federal Emergency Management Agency funding to New York State for Sandy is supposed to go toward hardening the region against future storms.

Some of those monies should go toward creating an emergency plan -- down to the neighborhood level -- on what needs to happen on Long Island before, during and after extreme weather.

That would involve the state, counties, towns and villages; it also should involve community and neighborhood associations, along with regional planning, business-related groups and Hofstra and other area universities.

Extreme weather has knocked Long Island back on its heels twice in three months.

For Sandy, flooding, gasoline supplies and electricity were major issues; for the snowstorm, it was clearing roadways and getting transportation systems back on line. As of Monday in Suffolk, the bus system still was not running, while the LIRR continued working to restore service to the eastern towns.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

So far, Long Island's working to handle the challenges. But it's been town by town, in fits and in starts. Now is the time for building a Long Island preparation and recovery plan.

There's only so much time before the Next Big One -- or worse, the Big Big One -- hits.

You also may be interested in: