Written by Katie Piacentini Friday, 06 January 2012 00:00
“Hurricane Irene wasn’t even a hurricane,” said Peter Forman, commissioner of the Port Washington-Manhasset Office of Emergency Management (PWM OEM), when he recently met with Anton Community Newspapers to provide updates on this organization. In describing that “Hurricane Irene” was categorically a tropical storm, he noted, “We lost power in many areas for a week to a week and a half. Had this been a stronger storm, or had it hit east of us, we theoretically could have lost power for many weeks.”
The event of Hurricane Irene in 2011, which wasn’t even a hurricane, shows the significance of emergency preparedness. It also validated the importance of NorthShoreAlert.org, a system comprised of all of the incorporated villages on the Port Washington-Manhasset peninsula and the unincorporated areas of Port Washington, which provides information to area residents through phone calls and emails. This system is a service of the municipal members and the affiliates of the PWM OEM.
There were several different scenarios of power, phone and Internet outages that played out when Irene hit this area. Some people had their phones and Internet working, but did not have power, some had power but no phone or Internet, and others had full outages. NorthShoreAlert.org covered all of the bases by sending voice alerts on landline phones and mobile phones, and the same alerts were also sent through email. The email alerts were particularly helpful for area residents, including this reporter, who received the email alerts on a mobile phone during a power, phone, and Internet outage as the storm passed through Long Island.
Some of these alerts related to the path of the storm – where it made landfall, what category it was, and when meteorologists predicted that it would leave the area. There were also alerts before the storm that provided information on local evacuations, since there was a high risk of flooding, and there was in fact a flood surge on Manhasset Bay after this storm hit. In the aftermath of the storm, there were email alerts about road closures, since many trees fell down, taking power lines with them.
NorthShoreAlert.org comes base-loaded with publicly available landline phone numbers, so many residents are already receiving voice alerts on their home phones. Forman said that it was important for people to understand that just because they currently get voice messages does not mean they are signed up. In terms of metrics, Forman stated that the peninsula has about 10,000 homes with about 40,000 residents. He added that about one-third of the community has signed up and 95 percent get voice messages on landline phones. (This number includes the publicly available numbers and those who have signed up).
“It’s important for residents to understand that unless they sign up at NorthShoreAlert.org, we only have the publicly available landline information, which is not complete,” he said, adding that information could be added for various people who live or work in the household – spouses, mature children, and caregivers. Also, Forman noted that it is important for people to maintain this information, such as when they change an email address or phone number.
Forman went into further detail on the importance of being signed up for email alerts. “First of all, we prefer to send email when we can. We don’t want to send voice messages unless we have to, but because so much of the community right now – two-thirds of the community have not signed up – we are forced to send more voicemails than we otherwise would,” he said. Secondly, he noted that there are times when they send email alerts for less critical issues, but if people have not signed up, they will not receive these alerts. Some examples of email alerts for less critical issues include information about a major road closure in the area, notifications about local elections (although this service would never be used to promote a specific candidate), reminders to clear fire hydrants after a snowstorm, and the Nassau County Department of Health spraying mosquitoes for West Nile Virus in late summer. In addition, Forman noted that incorporated villages sometimes use this service to provide alerts directly to village residents, such as information about street sweeping or other civic matters.
In describing the formation of PWM OEM, Forman explained the reasoning for joining Port Washington and Manhasset together went beyond the fact that both are on the same peninsula. “Almost all of the villages, with the exception of one, are waterfront communities and all have water risks, which is often our biggest risk. So it was natural, not just because of proximity, but because of common risk.” He added, “In doing so, we have been able to plan for emergencies, think about ways to better respond to them, and all of the villages and the town have signed mutual aid agreements, which state that municipalities can provide aid to one another without legal liability, but they are not forced to provide aid.” He further explained that if a village has extra resources available during an emergency, that village could provide help to another village without the concern of being sued if something were to go wrong.
The PWM OEM helps to streamline emergency management services for all of the overlapping villages and special districts within the peninsula. For example, different police districts are used by the villages and unincorporated areas of Port Washington: the Village of Sands Point uses the Sands Point Police; the Village of Manorhaven and the Village of Flower Hill are served by Nassau County Police; and the Village of Port Washington North, the Village of Baxter Estates, and the unincorporated areas of Port Washington use the Port Washington Police. Commissioner Forman also noted that the Town of North Hempstead is a peer to the incorporated villages within this group, and said, “I express my appreciation to all of the village mayors and the town supervisor for their efforts in making this organization the continued success that it is.”
In discussing how emergency services for the area are streamlined through the PWM OEM, Forman said, “One of the key by-products of the PWM OEM has been that many of the emergency managers, police, fire, public works, trustees and other officials have gotten to know each other on a personal basis over a multiyear period. In an emergency, it is really not the best thing to meet the person you need to work with for the first time.” Forman added that emergency management is a very local issue, and it is sometimes easier to get emergency volunteers at the local level because people feel that they are serving their community.
Another function of the PWM OEM is to provide information on emergency preparedness to residents. Forman said that hopefully, government will be there to assist during an emergency, but people do need to plan on self-help, such as making sure that there is a substantial amount of water and canned foods in the house that do not depend on cooking. Sometime this spring, the PWM OEM will hold a Family and Community Emergency Preparedness Fair to provide helpful information to residents.
For more information on the PWM OEM or to sign up for NorthShoreAlert, visit NorthShoreAlert.org.