FEMA, Town Officials: Are You Ready For The Next One?

It's still too early to tell whether Isaac is going to go all Irene on us, but now that he has your attention, it's a great opportunity to check your emergency plan and your emergency kit. Are you ready for another big one?


As Tropical Storm Isaac plows his way towards Cuba, it's a little too early to tell whether Madison, and the east coast of the United States is going to be affected at all by this storm.

But, now that Isaac has your attention, and with Joyce nipping at his heels, it's an ideal time to check your emergency plan and your emergency kit.

Are you ready for another big one?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said Thursday afternoon that it is monitoring the Isaac through its Caribbean Area Office in Puerto Rico and in its Regional Office in New York City. "Forecasts from the National Hurricane Center predict potential severe weather may begin as early as Thursday, in some areas of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands," FEMA said.

"At this time, it is still too early to know whether the storm could pose an immediate threat to the U.S. Coast.  History shows that storm tracks can change quickly and unexpectedly, so FEMA encourages coastal residents to monitor weather conditions and take steps now to get prepared for potential severe tropical weather.  Since the storm is still a few days away, now is the time to check your emergency kit and family plan."

Live along the shoreline? Always have an emergency plan, and an emergency kit, at the ready.

Madison's Emergency Management Director John Bowers, who is tracking the course of the storm along with Deputy Emergency Management Director Ed Brunt and other town officials, said that is exactly right.

He said that, in general, people who live in shoreline towns like Madison, should always have an emergency plan in place, and should always have an emergency kit ready to go. The first element of an emergency plan is determining whether your family will leave or hunker down at home if there is a hurricane.

In general, Bowers said, individuals and families that live in the south end of town should identify places to go inland if there is any chance their home, or access points and roads to their home, might be flooded. "People die in hurricanes because of water," Bowers said. "If people live close to the water, they should have a plan to get out. In general, if people live south of Route 1, they should have a plan to evacuate."

Be ready to be on your own if you are going to stay

People in other parts of town who decide to hunker down should make sure that they have at least three days, and maybe more, worth of medication, food, pet food, water, and supplies they might need, he said, based on the town's past experiences with storms.

"Irene and the October snowstorm [of last year] highlighted this issue: That people who stay should be prepared to be on their own for the first three or four days," he said. Bowers recommended resources on ready.gov for families who are making a plan.

Additional resources are available on the town emergency preparedness website, including the town's hurricane preparedness plan and generator safety tips, both of which are also included with this article in PDF form.

Bowers said Madison families with special needs or questions they can't answer by going to the ready.gov site are welcome to call his office at 203-245-5681 to seek advice and guidance if they feel they have a potential problem they cannot solve. Identifying potential issues early and coming up with potential solutions is preferable to dealing with an emergency at the last minute, he said.

Tropical Storm Irene was bad, but it could have been worse

Residents should keep in mind that, if another hurricane does hit Connecticut, that it could well be worse than Tropical Storm Irene, Bowers said. At the height of Irene, emergency responders were not able to go out for a short period of time, because high winds and other weather conditions made it impossible for them to do so safely, he said.

"If [Irene] had veered 15 miles to the east it could have been a whole lot worse," Bowers said. "There could have been a five or six hour period of not being able to go out."

He also noted that Irene, of course, was a tropical storm, and not a hurricane.

"Think about what might happen in a real hurricane"

"If there was a Category Three hurricane, imagine what that would be like," he said. "If 80 percent of all of the trees came down in Madison, can you imagine the devestation and the amount of time it would take to get back to normal? Think about what might happen in a real hurricane."

While the town, and the volunteers who staff our fire departments, always want to help residents, if the wind speeds get too high, the wind and adverse weather conditions can blow emergency response vehicles off the road.

"Don't stay in place and then expect emergency officials to come out and rescue you once the wind picks up and the water starts to rise," he said. "Because they will not be able to."

Town continues to evaluate, improve its disaster planning

While Madison residents evaluate their readiness, the town also continues to evaluate its own disaster planning, Bowers said. A prompted town officials to evaluate whether they should plan to do more when it comes to the town shelter, Bowers said. During Irene, there were about 14 people who used the town shelter, Bowers said, including about seven the first night, and a few more over the next few days.

There were many town residents who used the town campus for showers, and to recharge their electrical devices during the course of recovering from Irene, and then they returned to their homes.

He said the current location at the town campus gym does provide basic shelter and support to town residents, but that some area towns did more by way of shower accomodations and hot meals. At town campus, meal preparation facilities are limited. While the high school and Brown Middle School are possible alternatives, neither is generator ready, Bowers said. Making them generator ready would involve a cost, currently being evaluated by town officials.

Location of shelter being evaluated

The high school also has the disadvantage, during a storm, of not being on a central road. During Irene, downed power lines prevented access to the school for a period of time. So Brown Middle School might be a better location, since it is off of a state highway that likely would be cleared more quickly, he said. Brown Middle School is also centrally located in terms of geography, but it is a little further away from the south end of town, which has the most residents who would be at direct risk from water in a storm.

Bowers said the town is talking with Guilford about the possibility of working with that town to provide shelter for Madison residents, since it is nearby, but he said initial discussions indicate that Guilford might not be able to do so until their new high school is built. The new school is currently in the planning stages and likely won't be built for several years, he said.

"The most important thing when it comes to planning for the town is saving life and limb," Bowers said. "There is nothing we can do about property damage."

CL&P making effort to be more prepared, but likely would be severely taxed if big storm hit

Bowers said it appears as though CL&P, , is making an effort to be more prepared for the next big storm, and that communications and leadership in the organization are working closely with municipalities to make sure there is a better response next time.

"But they still will be severely taxed if there is a big storm," he said. One big problem is that some residents, in Madison and many other towns, don't always set up generators properly, so that line workers have to look at every single downed wire to make sure it is made safe. And, a wire that is "safe" one minute might be live the next minute if someone flips a switch down the line on a generator that feeds electricity back into the main line, he said. Checking all of that can slow down power restoration efforts. 

One tip that First Selectman Fillmore McPherson gave earlier this season is to make sure you have an old fashioned phone that plugs directly into the wall, and that doesn't rely upon electricity. This will work only if you have AT&T, he said. But Madison residents who do have AT&T, and who do have an old fashioned, non-electric phone, stand a greater chance of retaining telephone communication capability, he said.

Town officials also recommend signing up with Connecticut Emergency Alerting and Notification Systems.

Other tips, resources

Other tips from FEMA include:

  • Have important supplies ready to sustain you and your family, if needed.  This includes a battery-powered radio, flashlight, extra batteries, cell phone charger, medicines, non-perishable food, and first aid supplies.
  • Stay up-to-date with the latest forecast – Follow local radio and TV reports, as well as forecasts from the National Hurricane Center.  
  • For more tips on what to do before a hurricane or tropical storm, visit Ready.gov/hurricanes on your computer, m.fema.gov on your phone, or download the FEMA app from your smartphone’s app store.

Useful links

What to do before, during, and after a hurricane or tropical storm

Latest Isaac forecast from the National Hurricane Center

One way to help you keep your focus on emergency preparedness can be to track the storms as they make their way the Atlantic Basin. There is an Atlantic Basin Hurricane Tracker included as a PDF with this article. Then, to get information on the location of currently active storms, you can visit the National Hurricane Center online.

To find out about historical hurricane tracks, you can visit this resource from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Included as a PDF with this story is a chart that shows the progress of Irene as it turned into a hurricane, and then back into a tropical storm.

Also included as PDFs with this article are resources from FEMA and ready.gov on how to prepare for a hurricane or other natural disaster.

Anita Bath August 23, 2012 at 09:13 PM
Will McPherson's priority be to make sure the beaches are clean up first? Will McPherson attend any CL&P briefings?
Daniel August 28, 2012 at 07:56 PM
We get these suggestions every once in a while locally, and we get them all the time from FEMA and the Red Cross, but I can count on one hand the number of folks who actually have an emergency kit thrown together. We put one together at our office by making trips to Home Depot and REI, but the thing ended up costing us a ton. At home I searched several suppliers and was directed to one called Quake Safe Kits (or something similar) from the US Coast Guard. I bought a three day, two person kit for both our car and our apartment for less than a hundred bucks each. And they came with most of the stuff mentioned in the comments below. So, you know, the tools for preparedness are out there, I think we just don't like to think about catastrophes or try to pencil in shopping for emergency supplies.


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