Northeast Times

Weathering the storm

With more than 10 hur­ricanes pre­dicted for the 2013 sea­son, now is the time for North­east res­id­ents to pre­pare. 

  • A dock near Glen Foerd Mansion was heavily damaged. TIMES FILE PHOTO

  • The wrath of Sandy: Downed trees caused power outages for days after Hurricane Sandy hit last fall. TIMES FILE PHOTO

  • The aftermath: Joe Newbert makes arrangements to move the tree that fell in his front yard on Richwood Road after Hurricane Sandy hit last October. TIMES FILE PHOTO

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.

So, the ques­tion bears re­peat­ing: Are you ready for the next big storm?

“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.”

The steps are not hard, she said. Those who do a little bit every week start­ing now, she said, will be pre­pared for the even­tu­al­ity of no lights, no heat and food stores with empty shelves.

HUR­RICANE SEA­SON

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.

STAY­ING IN­FORMED

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.

“It’s one of the best tools,” she said, es­pe­cially since the city can send out an “all-users” mes­sage in case of emer­gen­cies.

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.

“There are Red Cross ready on­line tools, a down­load­able app and web-based train­ing mod­ules avail­able,” said Ren­ee Card­well Hughes, the CEO of the South­east­ern Pennsylvania Red Cross.

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 pecos­mart­mobile­on-the-go by down­load­ing ac­cess from their phones. It’s free, Smore said.

Schrader said the loc­al Red Cross chapter didn’t have any power out­ages dur­ing Sandy, and had some re­dund­ancy and backup plans in place if power had gone out.

But what if wire­less com­mu­nic­a­tions blinked off? Schrader said the Red Cross re­lied heav­ily on wire­less, so the chapter con­duc­ted a drill in March in which staffers and vo­lun­teers didn’t have cell phones or any wire­less devices.

“We had to com­mu­nic­ate the old-fash­ioned way,” he said, re­fer­ring to land lines.

“We had to make sure we had all the land line num­bers … and we were amazed by how many needed to be up­dated … some people don’t even have land lines.”

SMARTER NEXT TIME

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.

Schrader said some of the people who came to the 17 shel­ters the Red Cross op­er­ated didn’t come with everything they needed and ex­pec­ted more than a cot and warm meals.

“A com­mon prob­lem was people not bring­ing their med­ic­a­tions,” he said.

Pet own­ers should think ahead, he said.

“We would nev­er want your pets to be the reas­on you stay be­hind and in danger,” Schrader said, and cau­tioned, “People as­sume their pets can go where they can go … and that’s not true.”

Smore said homeown­ers should make sure they know how to turn off their ap­pli­ances safely and where their houses’ cir­cuit break­ers are so they can cut power if wa­ter is go­ing to­ward their elec­tric out­lets and ap­pli­ances.

“Wa­ter and elec­tri­city don’t mix,” he said.

And a cus­tom­er who loses power should re­port the out­age at 1-800-841-4141, Smore said. Don’t as­sume a neigh­bor made the call. Your call can help PECO de­term­ine the loc­a­tion of dam­ages to its sys­tem so the util­ity can re­store power.

Also, people should as­sume that any downed wires can be car­ry­ing elec­tric cur­rent, Smore said, and they should stay clear of them.

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.

Yes, she said, met­eor­o­lo­gists can get it wrong, but that doesn’t mean people should gamble that a storm won’t hit hard.

“Be care­ful,” she said. “You will save your­self an ex­traordin­ary amount of time and money if you are pre­pared pri­or to a dis­aster.” ••

An ounce of pre­ven­tion:

• Stock up on wa­ter, bat­ter­ies, non­per­ish­able food, medi­cines, pet food.

• Make sure you have work­ing flash­lights, lan­terns, a port­able ra­dio, candles, matches, a first aid kit, area maps, ex­tra medi­cines for your­self, fam­ily mem­bers and pets.

• Buy sump pumps, caulk and gen­er­at­ors now, not two days be­fore a huge storm ar­rives.

• Make evac­u­ation plans now. Put to­geth­er a “go bag” that has food, wa­ter, cloth­ing, blankets, flash­lights, bat­ter­ies, ex­tra house and car keys, some cash in small bills, toi­let pa­per, child-care sup­plies, pet sup­plies, san­it­izers, shoes, rain gear, a mul­tipur­pose tool, health in­form­a­tion and medi­cines. Such a bag is good for any kind of emer­gency.

• Put per­son­al re­cords in a safe place like a safety de­pos­it box.

• Put ir­re­place­able per­son­al com­puter data on a flash drive. 

• Put im­port­ant phone num­bers in your mo­bile phone, but also write them down along with im­port­ant ac­count num­bers.

• Buy ex­tra cell phone bat­ter­ies, a cell phone char­ger you plug in to your car, or a hand-crank bat­tery char­ger.

Book­mark use­ful sites:

• Phil­adelphia Of­fice of Emer­gency Man­age­ment: www.phila.gov/ready

• Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion: www.cdc.gov or m.cdc.gov 

• Na­tion­al Weath­er Ser­vice: www.weath­er.gov

• Na­tion­al Hur­ricane Cen­ter: www.nhc.noaa.gov/mo­bile

• Amer­ic­an Red Cross: www.red­cross.org or www.red­cross.org/mo­bile

• Free check­lists can be found at www.red­cross.org/pre­pared­ness­fast­facts

Sources: Phil­adelphia Of­fice of Emer­gency Man­age­ment, PECO and the Amer­ic­an Red Cross.

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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