Weathering the storm

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

  • 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

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

  • A dock near Glen Foerd Mansion was heavily damaged. 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.”


“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.


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.readyno­ti­ 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, 

Use­ful in­form­a­tion also is on www.Red­Cross­ 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 face­­nect. These so­cial me­dia con­nec­tions have storm pre­par­a­tion tips and safety tips.

Cus­tom­ers can check on out­ages at­age­cen­ter, 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.”


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.FloodS­

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:

• Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion: or 

• Na­tion­al Weath­er Ser­vice: www.weath­

• Na­tion­al Hur­ricane Cen­ter:­bile

• Amer­ic­an Red Cross:­ or­­bile

• Free check­lists can be found at­­pared­ness­fast­facts

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

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