With the terror of Hurricane Sandy passed, the town of North Hempstead and its 31 villages are now focused on restoring power, removing debris, and getting back to order.
North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman, speaking to Great Neck Village Officials Association, representing the nine villages and special districts along the Great Neck Peninsula, Wednesday, Oct. 31, outlined efforts and services available – including waiving the need for permits in order to address damage from fallen trees; a town shelter for pets for residents who need to vacate their homes during the emergency, assistance through the town’s 311, and how the town’s crews are working alongside LIPA in order to expedite restoration of power.
Kaiman, still wearing the neon yellow jacket and jeans he has been wearing at the emergency management operations center and looking weary, was joined by the town’s Director of Emergency Management, Tom McDonought.
Aware of the frustration residents have over not having power, Kaiman explained that the first priority is to clear the roads of debris – which requires a LIPA electrician to shut off power to wires so the trees and downed wires can be safety removed. Then LIPA will restore power as it can – though sometimes power might have to be cut off again.
“LIPA tells us the priority – the hierarchy of things that need to be fixed. The election is in six days- we can’t call it off.” Because polling places (as well as shelters) are in schools, they will be energized first, which will benefit the homes and businesses around them. Hospitals and other significant institutions will also get high priority.
Can electricity be restored even to the polling places in six days?
Kaiman said that to expedite the process, the town sends along their own DPW crews to help cut down trees and push them to the side in coordination with the LIPA crews – a process that was developed in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene when the restoration process went too slowly.
“I can’t take the responsibility for their time table – it’s a wonderful thing that we are working together with our crews – during hurricane Irene, a news story pointed out that LIPA crews that cut down the trees would be at one set waiting for an electrician to check the wire, but the electrician would be at another, waiting for the crew. “
Kaiman decided to have the town’s DPW crews shadow the LIPA trucks – at first LIPA protested, but then adopted the idea.
“I called up head of LIPA and said, ‘We’ll give you our crews to shadow your trucks.’ They said no, it’s a union thing.” But Kaiman insisted, “We’re going to shadow your trucks anyway. Now that’s the policy – a town crew follows along with their electrical guys- high voltage – electrical guys. “We’re getting so many more done with their two crews, but still it’s LIPA responsibility – we’re trying to assist and working together in ways we didn’t in the past, even sharing information.”
So far, the effort has been impeded because there have only been a single LIPA crew in the area. Hopefully the pace will step up since LIPA had promised to bring down 1000 utility workers from upstate and as far as Canada, to assist in the effort, as of Thursday, Nov. 1.
Kaiman said the town’s 311 emergency number has already fielded 11,000 calls in just the first three days of the storm emergency– it is manned 24/7 by town workers and volunteers (even Nassau County legislator Judi Bosworth manned the phones for a time). The town is the only suburban community with a city-style 311 emergency number, and Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano even gave out the number as a general number to call. As a result, people are calling from all over Long Island and even New York city, and the town operators are doing their best to provide information – where shelters are located, which gas stations are open, where to call someone to cut down a tree, the names of companies operating in community. “We will get just about any information.”
The town’s 311 center “is one of the few call centers up and we are responding 24 hours/day – some is power out, tree, don’t know where to go.”
“We are getting calls from all over LI, NYC, Suffolk, the south shore, our decision we made, look for a number and try to help instead of telling the caller they are not residents of North Hempstead – We even have a list of shelters in Freeport…
Because the town, with a population of 230,000, has become a command center, LIPA has posted one of its location managers there.
The town has also drawn upon its entire highway crew – 100 peple – plus its parks department to help saw trees.
“We just gave FEMA two tractors, and agreed to gas up the Coast Guard boats – so instead of us going to federal government, they are coming to us,” he joked.
The town is also housing 100 state troopers at the new community center in Westbury, which is also serving as a shelter.
“We are becoming a hub for the region – we are close to NYC – it helps us in the long run, as we work with FEMA, LIPA, Coast Guard, state police, as we have greater needs, to have them in our command center.”
Kaiman said the town has taken the position to have its crews and building department out and available.
“If a tree is on a house, we’ve taken a position from policy standpoint, the building department will come within one to two hours, photograph, then you are free to have it fixed without going through the permit process. In emergency circumstances, we will let homeowner get a contractor immediately (but the homeowner has to be able to provide the documentation) and will issue permits at a later time.”
If the tree is a municipal tree – whether town or village – Kaiman said, the town’s crew will assist getting the tree off the house. If the tree is a private tree, the homeowner will have to get their own service.
Nassau County was responsible for managing the shelters – 81-82 people at Manhasset shelter on night of storm, 40 people by day after. Great Neck North was opened as a secondary shelter but few people knew. But the town turned its animal hospital into a pet shelter, accommodating 70 pets, so their owners could evacuate if necessary.
To address the growing fuel shortage (the Port of New York has been closed so fuel tankers haven’t been getting in), Kaiman said, the town has just acquired a fuel truck – so the town can supply municipalities and shelters.
“There are lines at gas stations – people are nervous about running out. We anticipate getting fuel soon… “
Kaiman acknowledged the frustration that residents in having to go days without power but he outlined the method that needs to be followed and the hurdles: the first priority is to clear the roadways of debris, which requires LIPA people to shut down power to wires before the debris can be cleared. In prior storms, this process was delayed because two separate teams – the electrical teams and the DPW crews – were not necessarily going out together. Kaiman had the town’s DPW crews shadow the LIPA crews so they would be on hand to saw and push the debris to the side.
Once that is completed, then crews will come by the reconnect the wires and restore power. That would be followed by Cablevision and Verizon crews.
And the economic cost will be huge, with the shutdown of Long Island Railroad and all the emergency services.
McDonought advised village mayors to document everything – even the pre-storm emergency procedures undertaken – in order to obtain reimbursement from FEMA of 75% and 12.5% from the state.
Kaiman added “The town was awarded $1.7 million for Irene, but some villages didn’t give us documentation so don’t get anything. If you don’t put in papers, you could miss.”
Senator Schumer was looking to increase the rate of reimbursement to 90%, from 75%.
Because of being declared a disaster area, homeowners can recover up to $31.400 after other insurance reimbursement, and businesses can recover substantially more from FEMA.
Judi Bosworth, the Nassau County Legislator for this district, worked the 311 center lines for a time.
“You have to be there to see it in action,” she said. “It’s a team beyond anything I’ve seen – how people work together, makes you feel awestruck –the fact that streets are being cleared, and things going smoothly, not an accident.
It’s wonderful to see everyone working together, but in lots of places that doesn’t happen.”
“This meeting is rare,” Kaiman commented. “There is no place else where mayors come together – unusual – You would think it’s obvious – other areas have coordinated emergency management but the Great Neck Village Officials Association is very unusual –
Great Neck Village Mayor Ralph Kreitzman, who is also president of the Nassau County Village Officials Association, returned the compliment. “It’s unusual what town does for us – we all pay taxes to the town, but there are places where towns ignore the villages – you really listen to us.”
“The key thing is that we’re all working together- coordination of community to community, from up and down and sideways,” Kaiman said. “It’s extraordinary coordination – villages, town, utilities, state and federal government – so much interaction. The key thing is, the storm did what they said it was supposed to do – so we had the opportunity to see it was coming and could coordinate.
We had some preliminary hours to do some planning that was helpful – storm itself was intense – talking about 1000-mile storm, up and down the East Coast. This was different from the microburst, where we could go to another community for help; here, every community is affected.
“We are fortunate compared to the South Shore where waves were lapping at people’s second and third story windows…unnerving.. We got calls to have our boats help out at fire stations in Bellmore, where there were people on the roof.
“Kings Point had the highest flooding but the difference is the South Shore the flooding went around people’s homes, in Kings Point, sand, grass and trees got wet – don’t know if houses got inundated.
“The storm surge at Kings Point was 16 feet above “normal” and 8 feet above normal high tide – 24 feet above where usually is – incredible.
“As a community, the Great Neck Peninsula, we are okay, but individually, there are a lot in distress. Our job is to address those in distress – who are no longer in harm’s way but are without power, with downed trees, medical conditions. We need to address that,” Kaiman said.
Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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