PRESS RELEASE: NEW YORK’S EMERGENCY RESPONSE AND COMMUNICATION HURDLES

 

     

    Senator Ball Calls for Hearing, “Could have been Katrina-like”

    Putnam Valley, N.Y. – (09/03/11) –Senator Greg Ball (R, C – Patterson), while applauding rank and file utility crews, highway departments, volunteers, local law enforcement, fire departments and emergency responders, is simultaneously calling for a Senate hearing to drill down into response management and communication failures and shortfalls following Hurricane Irene.

    “First I’d like to thank the volunteers, the firefighters, the first responders, our law enforcement, and the rank and file repair crews for working around the clock. However, everybody in Government should use this as a worthy teaching moment. The fact is that New York State right now is not fully nor completely prepared for either a targeted terrorist attack to our grid or a natural disaster of greater impact than Irene,” said Senator Ball, who is the Chairman of the Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs Committee. “This storm could have been a lot worse. Had it been, we would’ve seen tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of families without power and water for weeks, if not months. Furthermore, pockets of communities throughout the Hudson Valley would have suffered from Katrina-like implications just minutes north of Manhattan, with families cut off from food, water, emergency services and power for an indefinite period of time. Thousands of uniformed personnel, utility workers and volunteers dutifully stepped up to the plate, yet we simply did not provide the support they needed, and as a state it is my opinion that we were not prepared to the extent we should have been,” added Ball.

    More than five days after the storm, some utility companies claimed to still be assessing the damage and have failed to properly communicate estimated restoration times with customers. Residents of the hardest hit areas did not know where to turn for shelter, and the availability of dry ice was extremely limited.

    Somers Supervisor MaryBeth Murphy, who alongside Senator Ball handed out dry ice and water to Somers residents this week, said that the communication to elected officials was terrible.

    “We were given information that we shared with our residents, and that information turned out to be false,” Murphy said. She also questioned the infrastructure’s condition prior to the storm, asking whether it was already frail when the storm hit, causing more damage.

    Yorktown Councilman Nick Bianco said an investigation into the utility companies was necessary to provide constructive criticism.

    “I believe they did not prepare well,” Bianco said. “Only after we criticized them did we see any action from our utilities. We need to find out what went wrong, and determine how we can improve it.

    Putnam Valley Councilwoman Wendy Whetsel agrees the focus needs to be on communication.

    “We need to revamp our communication so people are much more confident with what’s going on, so they see an end in sight,” Whetsel said. “There are better ways of keeping our residents informed,” Whetsel added.

    Carmel Supervisor Ken Schmitt, while commending the work of the utility crews, first responders, and volunteers, said NYSEG failed to properly prepare and communicate.

    “The out-of-state crews they called should’ve been in state when the storm hit,” Schmitt said. He also suggested that gas-powered message boards be used to communicate with the public rather than the internet, which families without power did not have access to.

    “The dry ice provided was a drop in the bucket compared to what was needed,” Senator Ball concluded. “At the end of the day, we can look at this with relief that we got by the storm, or we can realize that outside Jerusalem, we are Terrorist Target #1. Thousands of families were rendered powerless and incapable of providing for their children, and basic dignity was stolen from them. We need to have a hot wash on this, drill down into the details and determine how we could be better prepared at all levels of government, and use this storm as a teaching moment,” Ball added.

    For more information or to speak with Senator Ball, please contact Jim Coleman: (914) 837-5077.