Red Cross presenter Rebecca Lee did not elaborate on what “space weather” is or why it poses an immediate danger to New York State residents, which is a shame because it sounds like the kind of thing that could wipe Saugerties or most of the continental United States off the map. It’s also one of the few disasters that hasn’t yet touched Saugerties, along with terrorism and tornadoes — although the presenter reminds us that twisters have touched down as near as Schoharie County.
The presentation at the Saugerties Public Library on Sept. 16 is part of a new disaster preparedness campaign organized by the governor’s office in response to recent natural disasters, including (but not limited to) hurricanes Irene and Sandy, the 2010 New York City tornadoes, and Frankenstorm (the brilliantly named mini-blizzard that stopped MTA trains and ruined Halloween for a lot of people in 2012).
Lee has been delivering this presentation across the state. The goal of the program, she says, is to deliver the message of disaster preparedness to 100,000 people. Attendance at the Saugerties Public Library was 13 — 12.5 if you factor in that #13 missed the first half.
“It’s a very bare bones presentation,” says Lee. “It expects you to go home and do your own research. But it does remind you of the need to prepare. It does get you thinking about talking to your families about why it’s important to prepare.”
Dan Lucchese, who works as a regional coordinator for the Homeland Security Office of Emergency Management, is playing backup to Lee, clicking along the PowerPoint and elaborating on any questions that have loose ends. He’s more than qualified for the position: a paramedic for 20 years in New York City, he was a paramedic operations manager during the Sept. 11 attacks. In the early 2000s, he joined the Navy, and ran a battalion aid station for marines in the field. He calls himself “a disaster guy.”
“It’s a great presentation,” he said. “A lot of the people don’t realize the things that are brought up in this thing until it happens to them, unfortunately, and it’s too late. A lot of the stuff in these presentations comes from lessons learned from Sandy and Irene and everything prior to that. This is what we’ve seen hit citizens in a certain way that we in the business take for granted. We know about it, but they don’t. We’re trying to bring more of an awareness of second-nature-for-us things that they should know about and bad assumptions on the public’s part.”
Case in point: halfway through the presentation, a local who, to this point, has been offering some very helpful survival tidbits, brings up the fact that it would be wise to have a hacksaw on hand to cut through roofing and wave down help if one is trapped in a home in a high-water situation. Lucchese said while it may be wise in certain situations to get to higher ground, he does not recommend cutting through your own ceiling unless you were completely qualified to — unless you built the house and understood the floor plan.
The presentation, which runs for approximately two hours, covers just about everything, from how to pack a “Go Kit” survival bag, to how to escape from tight situations, to how to communicate to family members or loved ones who may be trapped by fallen rubble. Some of this is obvious stuff — pack two flashlights, have an ABC type fire extinguisher — some not so obvious. These include:
Paying attention to the expiration date of plastic bottled water has nothing to do with the water itself, but the bottle that it is held in. After the expiration date, chemicals from the bottle may seep into the water.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) radios are important to have on hand in case of emergency. Many of them are built to withstand rough weather and some are even crank-powered; all of them can pick up NOAA weather stations, which broadcast emergency information which can be vital to surviving dangerous storms.
While Saugerties itself is not in the danger zone of any nuclear disasters, Lucchese warns that anything within 50 miles, and even downwind, of a meltdown, is at risk of feeling the effect. So stock up on those iodine pills, folks.
Peter Poccia, who served in Vietnam as a medic and spent many years as a registered nurse before retiring and volunteering with the Red Cross — serving the public during disasters like Hurricanes Sandy and Irene — thinks that this course is a needed hors d’oeuvre, but not an entree, when it comes to disaster preparedness.
“This presentation is a very good starter, but people need the opportunity to ask questions about the specifics, you know, ‘How can I do this, How can I do that?’ We should present them with a way to get those answers. This is an overview, what generally needs to be done — the nuts and bolts of what needs to be done.”
He does believe, however, that in spite of its brevity, the presentation should be required reading.
“(During Sandy and Irene) people were caught totally off guard. Great that we helped them, but it could have gone a lot easier for them had they been prepared. Those disasters could have been much, much worse than what they were. And if they were much worse, there would have been a lot greater loss of life. People just weren’t prepared.”
He poses a question to all those who think they’re disaster ready.
“Here we are in Saugerties. It’s January. The electric grid goes down, you can’t get in or out of town. How do you heat your house?”