Does Suffolk County need a disaster preparedness plan to deal with catastrophic events such as Hurricane Sandy?
The answer from residents at a public hearing held by the County Legislature Thursday was clearly yes. Legislators gathered at the William H. Rogers Legislative Building in Smithtown to obtain feedback from residents on how to better handle a major event such as the recent superstorm.
Commack resident Debra Ettenberg felt a “crisis plan” is needed, saying that no one knew where to turn immediately after the storm.
"Often times you were told to go to the Internet. We didn’t have internet," she said. "When you have a crisis plan, think about the individual homes and let them know what the plan is so they can therefore relay [the need] to those agencies."
Fellow Commack resident Maureen Veprek felt the location of her hamlet at the “tail end” of the towns of Huntington and Smithtown was a factor in a slow recovery.
"We’re very underserved because we don’t have a central person to go to," she said. "Having coordination and communication seems to be the overriding thought here tonight."
To help get the word out to local residents Ettenberg said agencies such as local fire departments, schools, libraries, and community organizations should be involved in communicating it to the public.
Residents who advocated for a crisis plan said the county should be the lead agency in prioritizing what services need to be repaired.
Vito Cottone, also of Commack, said following an event like Sandy the county needs to get the roads cleared, traffic lights working and also create a list of where residents can charge personal electronic devices such as cell phones.
"It was so chaotic and nobody knew what was happening," he said of the days after Sandy hit Long Island. "That’s got to change."
In addition to developing a countywide crisis plan, others said further investment in downtowns would help Suffolk manage through other major natural disasters.
"We need an emergency plan for Long Island built off the strength of the local communities," said Eric Alexander, executive director of Vision Long Island. "There are a lot of infrastructure needs for our downtowns that we’re going to lobby for."
He told legislators that about half of the county’s 60 downtowns became the center for community interaction in the aftermath of the storm because they never lost power.
"Folks were charging their devices, getting meals, coming together," Alexander said. "I think that speaks to the importance of our downtown communities."
Legislators Kara Hahn, D-Setauket, and Kate Browning, D-Shirley, asked Alexander if he thought older systems such as traditional land telephone lines have a place alongside newer technologies in future preparedness.
"I think what you need is duplication in this instance," Alexander said.
Some felt that an environmental team was also needed as part of a countywide emergency response team, while others stressed the importance of restoring the barrier beaches along the south shore.
"The mere existence of that sand levy was of indispensable value to the mainland," said Irving Like, a resident of Fire Island.
Legis. Wayne Horsely, D-Babylon, said the speakers' testimonies and ideas would be taken into consideration when the county prepares a full report on Hurricane Sandy.