Northeast Times

Prepare now for a rough hurricane season

Phil­adelphia was largely lucky dur­ing hur­ricanes Irene and Sandy last year. This year, storms could be “ex­tremely act­ive.” Here's how to get a jump on them and pro­tect your­self. 

Ready for the next big storm?

Did you just shrug?

The tough thing about per­suad­ing people to pre­pare for the kind of weath­er that will flood base­ments, knock out power, chase them out of their homes and shut down the city, Sam­antha Phil­lips said, is that the last big storms, Irene and Sandy, wer­en’t as hard on Philly as they might have been.

Phil­lips, the city’s as­sist­ant man­aging dir­ect­or for emer­gency man­age­ment, said people don’t seem to ap­pre­ci­ate how big storms can af­fect their lives, es­pe­cially since “Su­per Storm” Sandy did not make a dir­ect hit on Philly in late Oc­to­ber.

Old news, per­haps, but what’s new is that the Na­tion­al Ocean­ic and At­mo­spher­ic Ad­min­is­tra­tion has pre­dicted that this year’s hur­ricane sea­son will be act­ive to ex­tremely act­ive. Between sev­en and 11 At­lantic hur­ricanes with winds of 74 mph or stronger are fore­cast.

“I don’t think we take hur­ricanes ser­i­ously around here,” said Amer­ic­an Red Cross spokes­man Dave Schrader. “But I think people are start­ing to do that.”

Maybe.

“It’s go­ing to be dif­fi­cult to con­vince the pub­lic to take this ser­i­ously,” Phil­lips said in a May 29 phone in­ter­view. “We don’t want to scare people, but we want to get them pre­pared.”

We’re in hur­ricane sea­son right now and it will last un­til Nov. 30. The city usu­ally doesn’t feel the im­pact un­til mid­way to the end of hur­ricane sea­son, Phil­lips said.

Last year, Sandy took a wicked turn and slammed New Jer­sey and New York, but it wasn’t as rough on South­east­ern Pennsylvania. In Philly, rain was steady, but nev­er heavy. Loc­al wa­ter­ways didn’t over­flow.

“If Sandy had turned left a little bit earli­er,” Schrader said, “it would have been us in the dir­ect path of de­struc­tion.”

Still, winds did gust to 70 mph, and some 119,000 PECO cus­tom­ers in Phil­adelphia lost power for days. Re­gion­ally, that num­ber was 850,000, ac­cord­ing to PECO spokes­man Greg Smore.

“That’s half our cus­tom­er base,” he said. Most had power again in a few days, he said, but ad­ded some were in the dark for a week. 

The city’s emer­gency man­age­ment team has been get­ting ready for the next big storm since Sandy blew out of town last year.

Phil­lips said the city ex­tens­ively ex­amined how it handled Sandy, try­ing to im­prove its plan­ning and how gov­ern­ment de­part­ments co­ordin­ate with each oth­er as well as with busi­nesses and non­profits. The city is work­ing on a plan de­signed spe­cific­ally to help it weath­er trop­ic­al storms, she said.

“And we re­fine our plans to take in­to ac­count things that can change in 12 months,” she said.

What’s dif­fer­ent this year, for ex­ample, is that some schools are clos­ing. That fact has to be worked in­to emer­gency plans be­cause schools can be used as shel­ters, she said.

Phil­lips said she gets weath­er brief­ings from the Na­tion­al Weath­er Cen­ter and from state and fed­er­al emer­gency man­age­ment agen­cies. What she wor­ries about is pro­jec­tions of rain­fall and flood­ing.

Com­mu­nic­a­tions are key not only to util­it­ies, the Red Cross and city agen­cies co­ordin­at­ing dur­ing big storms, but also to in­di­vidu­als. Any­one with a com­puter or a mo­bile phone can get weath­er alerts at www.readyno­ti­fypa.org. It’s very easy to sign up. Just vis­it the site and fol­low the in­struc­tions. 

Phil­lips said those who do sign up will get text and email alerts as storms ap­proach and ar­rive.

Sign up for text alerts by tex­ting PHILA to 411911. The alerts are free but your wire­less pro­vider might charge for text mes­saging.

Lots of tips are avail­able on the city’s Emer­gency Man­age­ment web­site, www.phila.gov/ready

Use­ful in­form­a­tion also is on www.Red­Cross­Philly.org or by fol­low­ing @Red­Cross­Philly on Twit­ter.

The Red Cross’s free hur­ricane smart phone app provides storm alerts, hur­ricane track­ing in­form­a­tion, loc­a­tions of nearest shel­ters and tips for be­fore, dur­ing and after a storm.

This winter, PECO set up a Twit­ter ac­count at @PECON­NECT and a Face­book ac­count at face­book.com/pecocon­nect. These so­cial me­dia con­nec­tions have storm pre­par­a­tion tips and safety tips.

Cus­tom­ers can check on out­ages at www.peco.com/out­age­cen­ter, Smore said. The site will present in­form­a­tion on a storm’s pro­gress, out­ages and power res­tor­a­tions. It’s easy to use and has maps keyed to where out­ages are.

Smart phone users can sign up for PECO Smart Mo­bile On-the-Go by down­load­ing ac­cess from their phones. It’s free, Smore said.

Phil­lips said apart­ment dwell­ers in Phil­adelphia shouldn’t be without renter’s in­sur­ance, which is very af­ford­able. Such in­sur­ance cov­ers losses of per­son­al prop­erty they might suf­fer in storms or oth­er emer­gen­cies.

The Red Cross ad­vises that flood in­sur­ance in­form­a­tion can be found at www.FloodS­mart.gov.

The best ad­vice, Phil­lips said, is to take weath­er warn­ings ser­i­ously.

“When we tell you there is a storm com­ing, heed those warn­ings,” Phil­lips said.••

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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