2003-09-19 / Community

LIPA Forecasts Hurricane Outages And Recovery

LIPA Forecasts Hurricane Outages And Recovery

A direct hit by a category-3 hurricane – could cause some 750,000 to 1,000,000-power outages island-wide, according to recent storm-damage estimates released last week by the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA). It could take 15 to 30 days to restore service to all customers, or at least to those customers whose homes or businesses were not destroyed.

Massive island-wide destruction would result from a category-3 hurricane largely due to extremely high winds, prolonged ground-soaking rains, and a huge tidal surge that could flood the south shore of Long Island as far inland as Sunrise Highway as well as numerous north shore communities.

According to the Saffir-Simpson Scale, a category-3 hurricane can pack winds of 111 to 130 miles per hour. In addition to the storm’s wind velocity, the forward speed and/or dwell time of a hurricane can intensify the storm’s punch, and its ability to cause sustained flooding and significant wind damage to buildings.

LIPA Chairman Richard M. Kessel noted that, "in addition to the damage that would be caused to the Island’s electric system, residential homes and commercial buildings would sustain significant wind damage, coastal areas would be flooded with large structures damaged by floating debris, and flooding would occur well inland according to storm-surge projections.

"Long Island has not experienced a category three hurricane in 65 years when the ‘Long Island Express,’ or great hurricane of ’38 roared through," said Kessel. "As a result, the vast majority of the area’s population has no idea of just how devastating such a storm can be. We’ve developed a mindset that Long Island is immune to such storms. But we’re not."

Kessel noted that the hurricane of 1938 was so powerful, with peak steady winds of 121 mph, that it destroyed thousands of homes on Long Island and left tens of thousands of people homeless. It also created the Shinnecock Inlet and widened the Moriches Inlet, which changed Long Island’s landscape forever.

"The August 14 blackout demonstrated how inconvenient it is to live without electricity and the electric-powered technologies we have all become accustomed to," said Kessel. "But life without electricity for two weeks or more as a result of a category three hurricane would make Long Island a real-life survival challenge that most people are not prepared to handle."

While the probability of a category-3 hurricane making a direct hit on Long Island is statistically slim it is not impossible, as history has shown. But it is possible for either a category-2 or category-1 hurricane to make a direct hit on Long Island.

A category-2 hurricane, with winds ranging from 96 mph to 110 mph, could cause an estimated 500,000 to 750,000 outages that could take 10 to 15 days to restore. A category-1 hurricane with winds ranging from 74 mph to 95 mph could put 250,000 to 500,000 customers out of service for approximately six days. A tropical storm with winds ranging from 39 mph to 79 mph could cause service disruption for 100,000 to 250,000 customers for up to three days.

LIPA notes that its storm restoration estimates are based, in part, on the ability to bring in assistance from other utilities in New York State, the tri-state region, and the Northeast, as well as independent contractors, under the terms of mutual assistance agreements that are in place. Should a major hurricane impact other areas as well, the time to complete on-island restorations could be significantly extended.

"For years, emergency management planners, such as the American Red Cross and those who coordinate disaster response in Suffolk and Nassau counties, New York City and State, have stressed the need for everyone to prepare for and respond to the destruction and disruption that would be caused by a major hurricane, noted Kessel. "But I would guess that less than half of the Island’s population has taken the time to prepare a survival plan for such a disaster."

"Human nature dictates that we take things for granted," said Kessel. "We tend not to want to think about the unpleasant things that can happen. Sadly, as we mark the second anniversary of the 9/11 attack, we are reminded of the fact that our lives were changed forever by that event, and that we must be prepared to respond to emergencies at a moment’s notice."

LIPA and emergency planners island-wide stress the need for everyone to plan, prepare and practice for a hurricane emergency, or prolonged electric service disruption. LIPA also underscores the need to take action before, during and after a major hurricane or storm, when electric service will be difficult to restore because of the extensive reconstruction work that will be needed to restore downed power lines and damaged equipment, and damage to roads and buildings that would hamper recovery efforts.

"LIPA has a detailed recovery plan in place, and periodic drills are conducted to make sure that everyone who has a restoration job to perform knows that job and how to do it successfully," said Kessel. "The primary goal of that plan – the Code Red Plan – is to restore service as quickly and safely as possible."

"Lines crews and other personnel will work around the clock, in shifts as long as 16 hours, to return service as soon as possible," said Kessel. "But, the electric service personnel who are out in the elements doing the heavy work of restoring the system must do it as safely as possible to avoid life-threatening injury. Safety first is always the first order of the day," underscored Kessel.

The time to plan, prepare and practice for the possible disruption of normal, daily life is long before a storm approaches.

Steps to take include: devising a plan that will keep family members safe during a storm, deciding if it will be necessary to evacuate possible flood areas along the coast and how to evacuate safely; make provisions for pets; plan for special medical needs and for senior members of the family, or older neighbors; distribute emergency contact numbers to family members; assemble a disaster supplies kit; check insurance coverage for flood and wind damage; inventory household items with photographs; prepare property to withstand the storm’s fury as best as possible; write down important telephone numbers; and put the plan and travel maps in a kit for quick, easy access.

As a major hurricane or weather event, approaches, it’s vitally important to listen to weather advisories and to be prepared to take action.

Modern weather forecasting provides the opportunity to prepare for a major hurricane days in advance. That’s when it’s important to check your home kit for flashlights (avoid using candles which can be a fire hazard), portable radio and TV, cell phone chargers (especially ones that can be used in an auto to recharge cell phones), extra batteries; adequate food and water for each family member for at least three to five days; get cash (ATM’s can lose power during and after a storm); secure yard items; put up window protection; unplug major appliances; prepare to evacuate early if necessary; and turn off water and electricity while leaving.

Also, fuel vehicles in advance of a potential storm since it may be difficult to find a station open or able to pump gasoline immediately after a hurricane. In coastal areas, move vehicles not needed for evacuation to high ground to minimize the potential for damage from flooding. If instructed to leave – leave. The temptation to "tough it out" can put lives at risk – yours and the personnel who may be sent on an otherwise avoidable rescue mission.

Immediately after the storm passes it’s important to follow certain precautions to ensure the safety of one’s family and neighbors.

Some of the basic steps to follow include: inspect homes for damage and take pictures; if a portable generator is being used, keep it outside and have a licensed electrician connect it only to major appliances. Never connect a generator to the main circuit breaker, since it could back feed electricity into the electric grid which could seriously injure electric service line personnel who are working to restore power; avoid all downed wires, even a telephone or cable wire can be in contact with a power line some distance away and it could be a live wire; as power is being restored, conserve and turn on only necessary appliances; and monitor local media for recovery announcements and power restoration updates.

The best way to plan for an emergency is to get the entire family involved. Each person should be given a role to play with very specific responsibilities. Mom and Dad can take care of the big items, but the children can take care of their own personal items and family pets, for example.

Kessel noted, "The key question that everyone should be prepared to answer is, ‘Am I prepared to survive a natural disaster that could leave me and my family without power and normal conveniences for at least a week? "If the answer is ‘no’, then there’s an urgent need to prepare. If the answer is ‘yes,’ then be a good neighbor and help a senior in the neighborhood, or someone else who could use help to prepare."

"Being prepared not only brings peace of mind as a storm approaches," said Kessel. "Being prepared can save lives and lessen the stress experienced during the storm recovery phase, which helps everyone cope with an extraordinary situation."

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