Long Islanders are facing the prospect of an “above-average” storm season as hurricane season kicks into high gear this month, but county officials and utility and emergency workers say they are ready to meet it, and urged residents to do the same.
Officials from the Red Cross, Nassau and Suffolk counties, PSEG Long Island and National Grid said they have been conducting drills and preparing workers and equipment in advance of the season. They urged Long Islanders to prepare with emergency go kits and prepare to evacuate on a moment’s notice. The kits should include food and water to last three days for each family member, flashlights and radios, important documents and medications, said Neela Lockel, chief executive of the Long Island Red Cross.
“We must not let our guard down,” she said. The agency next week is conducting a mock large-scale hurricane response across the region, mobilizing hundreds of volunteers. She said more volunteers are needed.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said “extreme weather events” of the past few months, including nor’easters and winter snowstorms, are clear enough signs residents must be prepared for more to come. He urged Suffolk residents to register for the county’s Smart911 safety profile to make sure responders have updated information about homes and their residents (register at http://www.suffolkcountyny.gov). Residents can also sign up for emergency alerts from the county’s Code Red system to receive notification of evacuation notices, bioterrorism alerts, boil water notices, and missing-child reports.
PSEG Long Island president Dan Eichhorn said the utility has hardened the system to its highest level, with some 9,000 miles of electric lines cleared of trees that cause outages over the past four years, along with thicker wires, stronger poles and new technology that helps isolate outages. The company expects to complete a $730 million federally funded hardening, or strengthening, over the next year.
PSEG is also using technology to better communicate with customers, including in advance of storms. It now sends out a text message to some 600,000 customers before storms, telling them they can respond with the word “out” in case of an outage. There’s also a link to the company’s storm website to track the progress of restoration. The remainder of the company’s 1.1 million customers can receive email or telephone advance messages, he said.
Kathy Wisnewski, manager of customer and community management at National Grid, said the company has doubled the number of exercise drills to eight this year in preparation for storm season.
In coming months it will be installing new technology that allows for the automated shut-off of gas service to individually affected customers at their meters if flooding is detected. The technology is planned for 58,000 homes in flood-prone areas, she said, and replaces a system that required shutting down service to entire neighborhoods in a flooding event.