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East Hampton Braces for Hurricane Season

Thu, 09/07/2023 - 10:36

Coordinating emergency preparedness called urgent

Durell Godfrey

The flood of tourists and part-time residents may have receded from East Hampton Town this week, but another, more dangerous kind of flood could be in store as the South Fork moves into the heart of Atlantic hurricane season.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center updated its prediction for the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season from “near normal” to “above normal,” citing factors including record-high sea surface temperatures.

The Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service, now predicts a 60-percent chance of between 14 and 21 named storms, of which six to 11 could become hurricanes, and two to five of them major hurricanes. An outlook issued in May predicted just a 30 percent likelihood of an above-average hurricane season. Storms that have already formed this season are included in the updated range.

With this in mind, the town board heard from Bruce Bates, the town’s emergency preparedness coordinator, on Tuesday. The Suffolk County Fire, Rescue, and Emergency Services Department and the county’s Geographic Information Services Department have conferred with towns’ emergency managers, he said, “because there were significant areas where the changes in topography around coastal areas that were vulnerable to storms seemed like it would warrant a change of the information that is typically used in the governmental decision-making tools,” notably Hurrevac, a decision-support system administered by the National Hurricane Program.

This, he said, “takes the data from the National Hurricane Center with the daily updates, or every six-hour update, and then it extrapolates it into what is forecast. You can see in your region what the severity will be, and what areas will be impacted.”

New York State has requested that the federal government modify the information Hurrevac conveys to provide greater specificity as to areas forecasted to be impacted by extreme weather. Mr. Bates said this has not happened to date.

Heads of town government departments involved with preparedness and response met in June, Mr. Bates said on Tuesday. They were told to check that their staff indexes were up to date, with all relevant information, “so they would be able to contact and advise them.” They were urged to have conferences with staff well before any storms, and to brief staff on post-storm responsibilities. A follow-up meeting took place last month to ensure that had happened, he said.

“It’s important for the public to remember that we’re very vulnerable out here on the East End,” Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said. “Everybody needs to take steps ahead of any event to make sure that you’re ready.”

Among those, he said, are stocking up on nonperishable food, fresh batteries, and medications, filling vehicles with gas well ahead of a storm, having a means to charge cellphones, making arrangements for pets, and placing panels over windows and doors. It is also important to be prepared for a storm’s aftermath.

“Keep in mind, utilities here could be out for weeks at a time from a major hurricane,” he said.

“Having the community prepared collectively makes our job a lot easier,” Mr. Bates said, “because a lot of times, if they don’t prepare, then after the fact they become part of the problem.” Residents of areas vulnerable to flooding should “know that you’re going to leave there and where are you going to go.”

In an emergency, the town may open East Hampton High School, the Montauk Playhouse Community Center, the Montauk School, and Pierson High School in Sag Harbor as shelters, but residents have been asked to call 631-537-7575 or visit the town’s website to fnd out which sites will be open.

The Human Services Department’s page on the town’s website has a tab for its special needs and emergency contact list, for those who need evacuation and shelter assistance during a natural disaster. Registration is free and voluntary.

The town’s website is one way the public is notified during an emergency, Mr. Bates said, with resources for emergency preparedness at ehamptonny.gov/580/Emergency-Preparedness. Residents can register to receive notifications at ehamptonny.gov/130/Notification-System-Alerts. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration offers information and resources at noaa.gov/hurricane-prep.

The town also uses LTV, local radio stations, and a county notification program that robocalls residents in a designated area. “That’s extremely helpful,” Mr. Bates said, “because we can target instead of just blast-emailing or blast-calling and get everybody in a frenzy when most of them don’t need to be.”

In the wake of extreme weather, some departments will not immediately resume day-to-day operations, Mr. Bates said, as they will be responsible for assessing damage “because the county wants to know, usually within 24 hours, the significance of the impact, as do we, obviously.”

The fire marshal and the Building and Ordinance Enforcement Departments are charged with this, he said, and the Natural Resources Department and harbormasters team up for coastline evaluations “so we can see how severely our shorelines were impacted.”

 

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