Schenectady County

Preparation urged at flood safety forum

About 50 people attended a forum Wednesday hosted by U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko at Jefferson Elementary Sc

A weather radio, emergency preparedness plan and updated flood plain maps would all be useful items if the Capital Region were to experience another disaster on the scale of tropical storms Irene and Lee last summer.

About 50 people attended a forum Wednesday hosted by U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko at Jefferson Elementary School in connection with National Flood Safety Week.

“It behooves us to prepare and to prepare well,” Tonko said.

A panel of experts discussed flood management. CBS6 meteorologist Neal Estano said forecasters knew that the storm was going to be a big weather event but he had never seen anything like it.

“It wasn’t until the pictures started coming in by the areas affected by the flooding, literally my jaw was dropping — that was a lot of water,” he said.

Britt Westergard, senior service hydrologist from the National Weather Service, showed off a NOAA weather radio, which she said functions like a smoke detector for any kind of severe weather. The radio activates and broadcasts emergency information during a weather event.

“Even if it’s in the middle of the night, it turns itself on and lets you know there’s something going on that you need to take care of,” she said. Westergard also told people not to drive through flooded roadways because they could get stuck and drown.

Ward Freeman of the U.S. Geological Service went one step beyond the radio with advice on how to get emergency notifications. “Have your river text you or send you an email, however you prefer,” he said. He explained that by going to the website and clicking on a waterway, people can get information about the flood stage and have an alert sent to them.

Many New York water bodies were above normal during 2011 with 73 new records. By contrast, during Hurricane Agnes, which hit the East Coast in 1972, there were only 22 new record water levels, he said.

Lake Champlain was above flood stage for more than two months last year.

And the changing hydrology of this area is only likely to increase the number of severe weather events, according to John Garver, professor of geology at Union College.

About a cubic kilometer of precipitation came through as part of Irene and Lee storm. “Almost an entire year’s worth of water came through in that one event,” he said.

The country has seen a large increase in the number of weather disasters from 2006 to 2011 and it is clear that infrastructure is not able to withstand these disasters.

More water is coming into the system. “Why are we getting the 100-year flood every other year and the reason is things are changing and we have to understand that change,” Garver said.

Other speakers covered how to make buildings safer and flood resistant.

“We can’t stop the flooding. Nobody can stop the flooding. We can reduce the amount of damage that flooding causes,” said William Nechamen, chief of flood plain management for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. One strategy is to have a better understanding of where the flood plain is. Schenectady County is in the process of getting upgraded flood maps, which should be completed in eight months.

Maps can be found at

Under stricter building codes that came into effect in the state in 2007, the lowest floor of the house has to be at least 2 feet above the flood elevation. If water gets into the lowest floor, an estimated 25 percent of the house will be damaged, according to Nechamen.

Bruce Jordon, Region 3 director for the New York State Office of Emergency Management stressed that people should have a cache of emergency supplies such as three days supply of drinking water and some nonperishable food if they lose electricity.

“Make sure you practice the plan. Know where you are going to meet. Know where you’re going to go,” he said. Also, keep a folder with important information like contacts, medicines, pet information, insurance policy information, that people could just grab in a hurry and evacuate.

Middleburgh Village Mayor Bill Ansel-McCabe said he found Wednesday’s forum to be a good refresher. When the power and telephone went out, people in his town were able to keep up to date on conditions through the Internet with backup power.

Categories: Uncategorized

Leave a Reply