Rockland County emergency services officials reviewed the plus and minuses of the different tools they currently use to get information out to residents during emergencies. The resources they utilize – NY Alert, County Radio 1640 AM, Info Rock, 2-1-1 and social media plus advisories to media outlets and town and village websites – were discussed during Tuesday’s legislative Public Safety Committee meeting.
The issue came up after Hurricane Sandy because residents were not always able to get updated local information on what was happening, what was damaged or when power would be restored. County Assistant Director of Emergency Services Dan Greeley said Sandy and its accompanying lengthy power outage made it a challenge to get timely and accurate information to Rocklanders. One tool he said more people should sign up for is NY Alert, which distributes updates by phone at no cost to the county. He acknowledged that 1640 AM has limitations because its signal does not cover the whole county.
Greeley said the bandwidth in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is being increased and cable is being installed. Greeley said social media was helpful because people responded to messages with information about what conditions were like in their areas but the department found it was personnel intensive to monitor.
Legislator Ed Day asked if 1640 AM should be expanded for future emergencies when power is out for long periods of time. In those situations he said a portable radio might be the only way people get information.
“I think it’s a valuable tool for the county,” said Pablo Ramos, E-911 coordinator. “We control it. We can control messages.”
He explained the county records messages that run in a 20-minute loop on the station. During Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath, the county gave Orange & Rockland access to put up messages. Ramos pointed out the county needs to get information out in the ways people are looking for it. He said a certain percentage of the population gets it from the radio, another segment from television and others through social media or online.
Sheriff Louis Falco suggested researching grants to purchase portable radios and batteries, which could be distributed like water and dry ice were after Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Irene.
Ramos said the county’s radio station transmitters have battery backup but not generators but noted the department does have generators.
Emergency Planning & Public Information Coordinator Nick Longo spoke about pre-planning to use facilities as shelters. He said it would be helpful to have more locations that are willing to serve as shelters or charging stations because they never know where the power will go out or what conditions will be like.
Social Services Commissioner Susan Sherwood spoke about Info Rock, which is part of the emergency communications system and can be accessed by phone or online. The information and referral service for health and human services maintains a database of those programs plus municipal resources.