As Hurricane Jose moved up the East Coast last week and a tropical storm watch was put into effect, Long Islanders were warned by local weather watchers to brace themselves for a potential impact. Jose, downgraded to a tropical storm Tuesday night, did not make landfall.
Despite media speculation, David Black, Ph.D., assistant professor at Stony Brook’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, does not believe there is enough evidence to say that the recent influx of storms has been caused by climate change.
“Climate change doesn’t cause severe weather, by itself,” Black said. “Climate change didn’t cause Irma, climate change didn’t cause Harvey, period. But what climate change does do is it increases the likelihood of those events happening, and it makes these types of events worse.”
Jose left minimal impact as far as rain and wind goes, with few power outages and a small amount of flooding in low-lying areas due to high tide.
“Jose never got closer than 150 miles southeast of Montauk,” Edward Schneyer, Director of Emergency Preparedness at Suffolk County Fire, Rescue & Emergency Services, wrote in an email.
When asked about the potential havoc a storm would wreak on Long Island and on the peninsula’s ecosystem, Stony Brook professor, conservationist and writer Carl Safina said in an email that the outcome could vary depending on environmental factors such as wind direction and moon phase.
“I’ve seen enormous tree damage (Hurricanes Gloria and Sandy), major coastal flooding with damage to homes and vehicles (Sandy) and two-week power outages. Two of the most destructive storms were not hurricanes, but created large surges (the Halloween Storm [of 1991] and Sandy),” he wrote.
Safina noted that poor urban planning decisions could exacerbate damages caused by flooding. “Every taxpayer pays for the mistakes of uncontrolled growth in inappropriate areas. Some federally insured homes flood over and over and we bail them out over and over. This is stupid and puts people at risk of bodily harm,” he said.
In the case that a more severe storm does hit Long Island, the Suffolk County government has certain measures in place to help minimize the damage. The Suffolk County Office of Emergency Management coordinates the county’s response to natural and man-made disasters, according to its website, and specializes in educating citizens about emergencies and natural disasters.
One of the services they offer is a mass notification system for emergencies. They also have in place a program called “Smart 911,” which offers people the opportunity to register and provide first responders with specific information about themselves, including relevant medical information.
Schneyer said that in the event of power outages or flooding, routine emergency operations are opened, and upwards of 60 people in all departments communicate on responses.
“The number of staff in the EOC depends on the anticipated impact of the storm,” he said. “In the case of Sandy, there were 70-80. During Jose, there were only 20.”
The Long Island branch of the American Red Cross is also ready to help if a natural disaster strikes, with over 1,000 trained volunteers on the island, and 6,000 in the greater New York region. Abigail Adams of the Regional Communications Office for the American Red Cross in greater New York, said that on average, the Red Cross responds to over 200 events per year, and offers shelter and aid to anyone who needs it. Similar to the Suffolk County Office of Emergency Management, they focus on education, encouraging people to take their emergency preparedness training. The Red Cross offers classes in first aid, CPR and AED (Automated External Defibrillator: a device used to respond in the event of a cardiac emergency), among other things.
“Trainings cover lots of topics which includes Emergency Preparedness, CPR and if you are volunteering, a variety of trainings tailored to your career path,” Adams wrote in an email.
On Stony Brook’s main campus, the Stony Brook Campus Emergency Response Team (SB C-CERT) trains members in the basics of emergency response and preparedness and how to serve as auxiliary emergency responders, supporting the efforts of conventional responders such as police, fire and EMS, Timothy Hong, treasurer of SB C-CERT and a senior health science major, said in an email.
“We work very hard to be prepared in the face of any disaster, including hurricanes,” Hong said. “Flooding and power outages are very real possibilities during a hurricane. We would collaborate with our emergency response partners and develop a plan to keep Stony Brook safe. We could be assigned to patrol the campus, we could distribute glow sticks and we could perform crowd control, which means denying access to dangerous areas.”
C-CERT has a procedure called “storm standby,” where members assign equipment and personnel to specific areas of campus. Should anything of consequence happen in that area, the necessary resources are then deployed in order to better ensure campus safety.
The group also offers training every semester for those interested in becoming auxiliary first responders in addition to public trainings in natural disasters, where they discuss measures Stony Brook students can take.
“I would urge all members of Stony Brook University to learn to be prepared,” Hong said. “There are simple steps you can take to enhance safety. Learn about hurricanes and other natural disasters that may impact you. Build a three-day disaster supplies kit, including food, water, flashlights, batteries, glow sticks, first aid kit, cell phone charger, personal medications and more. Develop an emergency plan, including your evacuation route and contact information for your loved ones. Lastly, joining a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program is a great way to get started.”
Schneyer offered similar advice.
“Please make yourself prepared, do everything you can,” he said. “Have a go bag ready, find out if you live in a flood zone and evacuate when you are told to do so. Have a plan for evacuation, whether you’re going to family, friends or a hotel.”
Schneyer also encouraged people to pay attention, year-round, to safety-related and educational events, even though the importance seems to come to light particularly during hurricane season.
“You need to be aware and have individual preparedness,” Schneyer said.