Alec Sciandra turned 15 years old a little over a month ago, but he has clear memories of what happened west of the Wallkill when Tropical Storm Irene blew the area a kiss. “My best friend’s home on Springtown Road was devastated,” he said, “and they were in a motel for like a year. They’re still rebuilding. I wanted to help in that situation.” Four years later, and he’s working on an Eagle Scout project which he hopes will fulfill that desire: a flooding survival guide, specifically geared to New Paltz. “I researched the internet on what flood information was currently available, and could not find any easy-to-read, quickly digestible information designed solely for the average citizen on how to protect their family and property in a flooding situation — and one that was tailored specifically to my New Paltz community.”
One does not simply become an Eagle Scout by collecting merit badges and reading reviews of survival watches. An Eagle service project is one that is designed and implemented by the candidate, must benefit a community or suitable institution and must allow the candidate to demonstrate leadership skills. Typically, this involves organizing teams of younger Scouts (who must complete a certain amount of service to move up in rank) to perform manual labor, such as removing poison ivy from Sojourner Truth Park or putting in erosion-control measures along a vulnerable section of rail trail. The troop’s committee can advise the candidate, but the scout himself must coordinate what’s needed, be it volunteers, donations of materials, equipment, safety protocols or expert input. Sciandra’s project is a little different than the norm, because instead of corralling younger boys and directing their efforts, he has to work almost entirely with adults to complete this local flood-survival guide.
With youngsters, “You manage other scouts,” he said. “They dig holes, you give them lunch. Adults are not easy to manage,” he said, because they often simply don’t call him back. “Kids, you just feed.” Those adults range from emergency responders and government officials to flood victims themselves. He has yet to even get the names of appropriate people to call in the EPA and FEMA, but he’s been making more headway with local first responders. He named New Paltz Lieutenant Rob Lucchesi of the New Paltz Police and volunteer firefighter Steve Greenfield as being particularly helpful thus far. Sciandra’s goal to is have 500 copies of the guide printed and distributed around the community by the end of this school year, so he’s got some wiggle room left. The finished guide — which will be printed at a discount by PDQ Printing, because it’s for an Eagle project — will also include a full-color map of New Paltz and its flood-prone areas. He’s gathering data about community web sites which might host the guide electronically.
Deciding on what to put in the guide was an early challenge. “The scope could be huge,” he said, and he’s had to winnow that scope down, eliminating, for example, a section on power lines which have fallen on cars. “I’m using my best judgment.” The more he researches, the more related issues he’s discovered. They include what to do about pets during a flood, what happens if someone is unable to reach needed medication due to flood waters and how floods are related to house fires. “Propane tanks can float around, or break,” he explained, and the gas can build up in a basement and be ignited by the spark of a furnace. Then, there’s issues of danger when conditions appear safe. “People canoe on the flooded flats,” Sciandra said. “That’s a terrible idea. Water seeks a low point rather than flowing in a single direction, and they could be thrown into sharp tree branches or rocky embankments. It also puts first responders at risk.”
Sciandra said that he’s continuing to learn as he works through this process. He has already spent countless hours researching power outages, the effects on the Wallkill River when household chemicals are swept away, learning what evacuation routes are available and how people can get current information quickly during a flood. He’s planning on including details about evacuation routes, shelters and safety precautions to be taken not only beforehand, but also during a flood and while rebuilding. In addition to the ample time he’s already been given by first responders, he wants to interview more flood victims and learn from them what information they would have found most helpful.
Then, there’s how to survive through “the whirlpool of confusion and wrong information given by FEMA,” as well as other bureaucracies, as one tries to rebuild and recover from flooding. He wants to talk to someone in that administration, as well as people who specialize in insurance claims, to help demystify the process and provide clear guidance during a stressful time. That comes back to his friend, whom he says still has a basement with a dirt floor, four years after the flood that took his home away.
Troop 172, which meets in the Reformed Church on Huguenot Street, has three other Scouts looking for Eagle projects at this time. Eligible work must benefit a school, religious institution, non-profit community-service organization or the community at large. Anyone who has a project idea that is suitable is invited to contact the troop via its web site, troop172.org.