- By Dan Veaner
"The Town does not have disaster preparedness," French said. "We've talked about it for eight years that I know of. About four years ago a town board member asked whether I would be on a committee to get it going and that was the last I heard of it. The Town of Lansing really needs to step to the plate and get a plan together. Because we're not prepared."
French said that last week's storm cut of power at the Highway Department for eight to ten hours, during which time critical emergency equipment was disabled.
"At our Highway Department that not only knocks out all the electrical in our building, but our two-way radios, and it also knocks out the fuel pumps and gas pumps which all the emergency vehicles in the Town of Lansing use," he said.
While the Lansing Fire Department is not part of the Town government, all its vehicles are fueled at the Highway Department tanks. With no backup generator or any power at Town Barn Road facility, that meant that fire equipment and EMT vehicles had no source of fuel, nor did Town trucks and other vehicles. French said he was unable to communicate with his crews on the night of the storm because two-way radios were out of commission, and cell service, especially along Salmon Creek was insufficient.
"When I was down on Salmon Creek Road the Fire Chief was trying to get hold of me on his cell phone," French said. "He wanted a loader to try to get a tree out of the way that was causing problems. He couldn't reach me on my cell phone. I was trying to reach my crew on the two-way radio, which didn't work. I didn't know the electricity was out at the Highway Department. So we were out of communication for an hour until I could get back on top of the hill so my cell phone would work. And that was just one incident. The Town really has to get better prepared."
Councilman Ed LaVigne asked whether the Town had ever looked into purchasing a generator. French said it was considered four years ago, but nothing ever came of it. LaVigne said that the Board should attack the problem in two phases. First, he said the Town should obtain an emergency generator for the Highway Department as soon as possible. After that he said a committee could be formed to formulate an emergency preparedness plan for the Town.
The primary thing is to get going on this generator right now," LaVigne said. "The second thing is to look into how you can facilitate other areas in case you have an ice storm in the winter so you have someplace where people can go. A glimpse of this was when the schools offered their facility for people to have showers and use the facilities. Where are the large areas where people can stay for more than one day?"
Former Councilwoman Connie Wilcox noted that the Fire Department can provide water and shelter in emergencies, noting that Central Station and Lansingville Station in particular have generators for emergencies. She said they have cots for people who can't be in their homes. She noted that the fire stations are included in the County disaster plan. She recommended including the fire district in developing a plan for the Town.
French added that Village of Lansing officials should also be involved in crafting a Town plan.
Councilwoman Ruth Hopkins said she had recently spoken to Tompkins County Senior Planner Scott Doyle, who she said has extensive experience in emergency weather and preparedness planning. She advised involving him in discussions about formulating a Town plan, and suggested he might have existing plans that can be used as a beginning for a plan for Lansing.
Town Attorney noted the County has a hazmat plan that focusses particularly on Lansing because of the airport and railroad facilities located within town boundaries. He noted that about five years ago Highway Department personnel were trained in mandatory federal communications protocols.
"But what Jack is saying, I think, is that the rest of the regulatory and common sense steps that had been accomplished haven't been followed through because this committee never came into being to keep an eye on this issue.," Krogh said.
LaVigne noted that some municipalities implement a program called 'Red Alert'. he explained that the program sends messages to cell phones when a road is blocked or washed out or there is some other emergency condition. He also said the town government should communicate more with the community about where they can go and help they can get in emergencies.
French added the County now has hand-held radios that can reach anywhere in the County for emergency use. He said the Town should invest in at least two or three of these units so it can reach out to fire departments, other towns, the County Highway Department, Sheriff's Department, State Police or any other official entity on the system.
The fallout from the two storms has backed up the Highway Department as they continue to remove fallen trees and branches. French said volunteer firefighters had also spent three days delivering supplies to people with medical needs.
"We picked up quite a few trees and brush from the Lansingville, Lansing Station and north Lansing areas that were hit hardest by the storms," French said. "That's what most of the crew has been doing for the last couple of weeks."