June 07, 2006

Town Steps Up Emergency Preparedness Efforts

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell is serious about emergency preparedness. And should a devastating hurricane or natural disaster be headed toward the North Fork, the supervisor announced this week that special efforts will be expended on helping those who might be most vulnerable during a crisis.

On Monday, the supervisor held a press conference to discuss the issuance of a new, town-wide inventory questionnaire that will be targeted toward the elderly and infirm.

The questionnaire, which will be sent out in several mailings over the course of the next few weeks, will allow vulnerable residents to register information with the town "so they can be the first priority in the event of an emergency," explained Russell.

The supervisor added that the general welfare and safety of the public is a mutual responsibility that should be shared by the town and residents.

Once collected, inventory will be entered into a new geographical information system (GIS) computer program that will be able to pinpoint location, as well as the special needs of elderly or handicapped individuals in the event of necessary evacuation. The GIS will help responders to locate and evacuate individuals expeditiously.

Assistant Deputy Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Lloyd Reisenberg said after information is collected into the town's database, reports will be generated on a "by-fire district basis."

The data can also be taken and overlayed on top of a flood zone map. "There's a lot we can do," he said. "This is just the beginning of a good thing."

The information gleaned from the questionnaires, said Russell, will also help the town to prepare special needs shelters, where everything from medical needs to equipment will be available before and during an emergency.

Fire departments, EMS workers, and police officers would be responsible for reaching the targeted individuals and bringing them to special needs shelters.

The shelters, said Russell, will be located at sites such as Peconic Landing, which already has a fully self-contained medical unit.

Peconic Landing will also serve as a general needs shelter for town residents.

On the western end of town, the Human Resource Center in Mattituck has been designated, with the Katinka building outfitted with a generator. The main building is already equipped with a generator and kitchen.

The Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, said Russell, is also a medical needs resource "for those with critical needs" in time of emergency.

In addition to the mass mailing, Russell said the town is reaching out to churches and humanitarian organizations to help with distribution. "We want to be sure that no one gets overlooked," he said.

Educating residents is key, said Russell, adding that information will also be disseminated that residents should have on hand in time of crisis.

Even pets will be considered, especially important after Hurricane Katrina, when many residents refused to evacuate and leave beloved pets behind. "We are establishing protocol for people who own pets, and are in the process of establishing shelter locations for those who do not want to leave their pets behind," said the supervisor.

Southold's emergency preparedness plan will soon be posted in its entirety on the town's website.

In addition to speaking about the plan, Russell announced that the town's emergency management team includes two new members: Southold Human Resources Director Karen McLaughlin and Greenport Village Trustee Ben Burns.

Burns has been working for several months on mailing out cards to determine where special needs residents are located in the village. The response so far, he said, has been good, with about 35 homes identified where residents may need emergency care. "I don't think that's everyone, but if there are others, I'd sure like to know who they are, so we can add them to the list," he said.

The village has had an emergency management plan for several years, and Burns commended Greenport Village Trustee Jamie Mills, who was instrumental in executing the plan.

Burns plans to hold a roundtable discussion today for involved village personnel at village hall to walk though the steps of what should happen in the event of an emergency.

"Preparation is the name of the game," he said.

Emergency preparedness has been a countywide initiative, with an emergency response plan put to the test recently during a four-and-a-half hour simulated island-wide hurricane drill, organized between Suffolk and Nassau Counties, the Long Island Power Authorities, and Keyspan.

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