By Rockland County Executive Ed Day
Many of us have been mesmerized over the past week or two by images of swirling clouds and epic floods as our nation took a pounding by back to back hurricanes with a third in the offing.
But while hurricanes and other natural disasters inflict suffering and destruction, they also do something else: Bring out the best in people.
They also give those of here in Rockland County a reason to review our own disaster planning and preparations to make sure we are ready for anything.
The rain from Hurricane Harvey had barely stopped in Texas when the first team of volunteers left Rockland to help out.
The Rockland Disaster Medical Assistance Team, known as DMAT, is headed by a Rockland County employee, Kim Lippes, our county EMS coordinator.
Kim got the call at 9 p.m. that the team was being activated and by the next morning she was on a plane headed to Texas.
She is not the only one.
Liz Benjamin who just retired as assistant Director of Emergency Planning for the Rockland County Department of Health, also went to Texas with the DMAT.
So did Alf Reinertsen, an instructor with the Office of Fire and Emergency Services and an EMS with Stony Point Ambulance.
And Linda McMullan who worked for many years in the Department of Social Services went to Texas as a volunteer with the American Red Cross.
We don’t know yet if the team will be heading out to help communities recover from Hurricane Irma or even Tropical Storm Jose, which is still swirling out in the Atlantic.
But we do know that whenever there is a need, the people of Rockland County are the first to volunteer.
We activated the Rockland County Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster has been activated for the first time, which will enable Rockland residents to donate to disaster relief efforts.
All of us who lived through Sandy – and Irene and Floyd before that – know not to underestimate the destructive power of a hurricane, even if it weakens by the time it reaches New York.
We have learned from experience what we need to do in Rockland to stay safe during a hurricane or tropical storm.
Our drainage agency has been working hard to closely monitor the 80 miles of county-regulated streams to make sure there are no obstructions and water can flow during the deluge that typically accompanies hurricanes. Just this summer, the federal government awarded the county $1.02 million to pay for repairs to the bank of the Minisceongo Creek in West Haverstraw, which was damaged during Hurricane Irene.
We purchased temporary flood barriers that can be put up quickly in flood-prone areas.
We conduct drills and go over our disaster plans.
But there is only so much that we can do. Residents must also take steps to prepare for a hurricane or other natural disaster.
Make an emergency supply kit – enough food and water for you and your family for three days, pet food, prescriptions, batteries, flashlights, etc. Make an emergency plan – how will family members contact each other? If you have to leave your home in a hurry, where will you go? How will you get information?
These are questions that you can answer before disaster strikes.
We have provided residents with free training provided by the Rockland Community Emergency Response Team (RCERT). The program, presented by the Rockland County Office of Fire and Emergency Services and the Rockland County Youth Bureau, is designed to provide basic training in disaster preparedness for residents, which increases the ability of citizens to manage an extreme situation until first responders or other assistance arrives.
Go here for some more tips on developing a plan.
Even if this current round of hurricanes miss us, we won’t always be so lucky.