Broome County Emergency Management Services learned a lot from the flooding of 2006, which helped them when Tropical Storm Lee hit the area last year. But as our Elyse Mickalonis tells us, despite those tools, they say there’s more to be done in the future.
BROOME COUNTY, N.Y. -- As Broome County buckled down last year waiting for Tropical Storm Lee to hit, emergency services kicked into action.
"A number of the models said the hardest hit areas would be west of Broome County, but when the storm arrived it locked in over Broome and Tioga County and stayed here," said Brett Chellis, Director of EMS.
Officials say they had two useful tools to use during 2011 that they didn’t have in 2006, and that made all the difference.
"We were able to refer to that and see which areas would be affected at different levels, as the storm went on the predictions kept rising or a 2005 crest, then 2006 and unfortunately, it became worse than 2006," said Chellis.
Chellis says those predictions helped officials determine what areas to evacuate. In all, they evacuated more than 20,000 people from around the area. The tool they used was New York Alert.
"We fully activated that and it was a big help in notifying people in mass dialing, mass text messaging and so on to notify people in harm's way to let them know to evacuate and we followed up door-to-door," said Chellis.
He says they also had to deal with a number of firsts during Lee.
"We had water going over the floodwalls for the first time ever in the history of the county, that we're aware of, since they were built in the 1930s to the 1960s. The other was out of 20 dams we had 19 of them spilling through emergency waterways," said Chellis.
Meanwhile, the Lourdes floodwall was proving itself a success. Construction started on it following the floods of 2006, when emergency services had to deploy 20 ambulances and buses to relocate people. It was completed three months before Lee flooded the Southern Tier.
"We could extend ourselves to the community more last year then we did the first time. We were happy to do that, but saddened to see the communities that did not have protection from the ‘06 to the 2011 flood," said Dave Patak, Lourdes C.E.O.
The wall at its highest point is 11 feet and officials say the water came within 30 inches of that mark, but never breached. The structure allowed the hospital to continue operating and workers to turn their attention to the community.
"Gives us a little comfort to know we can handle that or a little higher, but we hope and pray that doesn't happen again,” said Patak.
Chellis says this flood wall helped the county better respond to the community at large.
"It kept us from evacuating a hospital and shutting down critical facility during an emergency," said Chellis.
Chellis says the county has learned a lot in the wake of Lee, but there's still more work to be done.
"To add to the height of the floodwalls we've been told is impractical, as far as the structures themselves, they'd have to be replaced. Aside from that there's things like stream management, what are the possibilities, effects, there's been a lot of information gathering, how successful projects like that are. The ability to restore wetlands or add additional retention areas," said Chellis.
Still a lot to learn from Lee to better-prepare for future flooding.