Hurricanes Renew Interest In Emergency Prep.
In the wake of Isabel, a 2003 hurricane that amounted to little more than a week of great surfing in Rockaway, the city’s Office of Emergency Management held an information session for the public at Beach Channel High School.
John T. Odermatt, then Commissioner of OEM, gave an hour-long presentation, which was followed by a Q&A session where some of the audience members wanted to skewer his agency for what they felt was a lax response to a threatening storm. Odermatt answered the handful of critics with detailed information about OEM’s preparedness and information about how they could prepare themselves.
With two major hurricane events that devastated Gulf region states, Joseph Addabbo Jr, who coordinated OEM’s previous visit, called for another information session. OEM and the American Red Cross co-sponsored a meeting at BCHS Tuesday night, with very different results from two years ago.
The biggest difference this time around was the size of the audience itself. People in the audience told The Wave they were concerned with Rockaway’s proximity to two major bodies of water and the risk it poses. Carmen Rodriguez of Far Rockaway said she attended because of her experience during the nor’easter of 1992. Jimmy Lopez, who lives on Bay 38 Street, said he was worried a storm could easily put his home under water because the moon tide already brings the bay onto his street.
Marie Masiewicz, who sat front row with a friend, said, “We just want to be prepared for, God forbid, some kind of emergency.
“I’ve got two pets and I live in the lower part of my house,” she added. Masiewicz pointed to the Department of Parks and Recreation removal of dunes and the decline of marshes in Jamaica Bay as significant losses of natural water barriers.
About 75 people attended this week’s session; in 2003, the Yankees were in the World Series, the weather was unseasonably cold and there were just 12 people in the school’s auditorium, which can legally hold more than 1,000. While both numbers represent just a fraction of a percentage point of the peninsula’s population of 110,000, Addabbo said he was pleased with the recent turnout.
Local police and fire departments, with the exception of the Rockaway Point Volunteer Fire Department, were absent.
The presentation this time was also different. The session, which was promoted in The Wave and other papers as a four-hour event, started an hour and a half after the supposed start time.
Addabbo told audience members that he coordinated the event after seeing the “harsh reality” of the destruction Hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused.
“Knowing where to go and what to do in the event of an emergency saves lives,” he said before deferring to OEM and the Red Cross. An OEM staffer then introduced Theresa Bischoff, the Red Cross’ Greater New York CEO, who encouraged people to “take the time to actually take the [preparatory] steps.
“Complacency,” Bischoff added, “is our biggest challenge.”
OEM’s new commissioner, Joseph Bruno, followed next. He highlighted his agency’s vigilance by pointing out that potentially harmful weather is monitored as soon as it rounds the southern tip of Africa, and said OEM is aware of Rockaway’s high number of the elderly or infirmed.
“The first thing we’ll do is talk to those nursing homes,” he said while describing OEM’s advance-notice approach to any evacuation of the peninsula.
What followed was a generic lecture on preparedness, given by two men from the Red Cross and OEM, which lasted more than an hour. The men discussed the development of a disaster plan and the assembly of an emergency kit and a “Go Bag,” which is a small collection of essential items that will be needed during an evacuation or major event. They also talked about how to stock your home with the food and supplies in case you get stuck there.
While the presentations were routine at best, those who came were able to ask Bruno about Rockaway’s evacuation plan. The commissioner tried to reassure critics by telling them that the city’s administration is fully aware of the peninsula’s vulnerability and that the evacuation order would come 24-48 hours before a storm hit the area. People also received two potentially important handouts. The first, OEM’s “Ready New York” brochure, which is available online at www.NYC/ Gov/OEM or by dialing 311. The OEM and the Red Cross also gave out “Safety Tubes” containing a dust mask, whistle, glow stick and a sealed drinking water pouch.