Schoharie is the latest New York county that will proudly display new signs to recognize strides made toward preparing for weather-related disasters.
Schoharie County Emergency Management Director Kevin Neary on Friday announced the National Weather Service approved the county’s application under the StormReady program, a designation he said reflects disaster planning progress made in the 18 months since tropical storms Irene and Lee inundated the Schoharie Valley.
StormReady is a nationwide program aimed at using a grass-roots approach to helping communities plan for severe weather, according to the program website, www.stormready.noaa.gov.
Schoharie joins 17 other New York counties designated as StormReady in addition to eight communities and SUNY campuses in Binghamton and Oneonta.
The effort encourages communities to improve their operations in severe weather situations. Severe weather causes roughly 90 percent of presidentially declared disasters and lead to 500 fatalities and about $14 billion in damage each year, according to the National Weather Service.
The designation comes with several requirements including establishing around-the-clock weather monitoring capabilities and an emergency operations center.
StormReady communities need to establish more than one means of receiving severe weather forecasts and warnings and of informing the public. Local weather monitoring, promoting public readiness and developing hazardous weather plans are other requirements.
Although the designation reflects progress, Neary said Schoharie County has much work to do to prepare for another disaster the size of tropical storms Irene and Lee. And, in communities like Cobleskill and Richmondville, emergency preparations must take Interstate 88 and railways into account due to hazardous materials that are transported on them.
Neary said much has already changed since the 2011 disaster, and many of the improvements fit into the requirements sought in the StormReady program.
For one, the county drafted an after-action and improvement plan outlining procedures to be taken by each of the county’s departments.
Both the Emergency Management Office and the Schoharie County Sheriff’s Department have established Facebook pages that serve as additional means of notifying the public of impending bad weather.
Neary said meetings have been held and agreements secured with all of the school districts in Schoharie County and with the Duanesburg Central School District in Schenectady County in an effort to ensure a variety of suitable evacuation sites are available to house displaced residents.
The Emergency Management Office is also partnering with the post-flood recovery organization SALT to get emergency information out to residents living in high-risk areas.
Neary said he and others are also promoting the NY Alert system — a free service that people can sign up for that will send emails or texts to alert them of emergency situations. For Neary, that’s not enough. He said the county is also establishing its own text alert system while researching additional radio broadcasting capabilities with neighboring counties.
“We have to use every medium there is,” he said.
And more work needs to be done, he said. The Emergency Management office is exploring ways to make sure all school districts are able to operate off generators. Neary said a proposal isn’t yet developed, but he intends to ask county supervisors to provide financial support to get school buildings retrofitted so they have proper fittings to accept a generator.
“We have a long way to go,” he said.