Ulster County Strengthens Storm Preparedness

The tri-state area has seen three of its worst tropical storms ever in the past four years.

Hurricane Sandy, Oct. 22, 2012, Hurricane Irene, Aug. 20, 2011 and Tropical Storm Lee were, for many citizens affected, the first real natural disaster they have ever experienced.

For Ulster County, fallen trees, power outages and overflowing rivers proved to be the major hardships  of the storms. Irene was nothing short of a shock to the system. According to County Executive Mike Hein, Irene was the worst natural disaster to ever hit the area.

Two years after Irene, on Tuesday, July 23, 2014, Ulster County Disaster Response Volunteer Workforce Committee (UCDRVWC) met for an important meeting in Phoenicia, New York in order to further strengthen the county’s natural disaster relief procedures. Issues discussed focused mainly on improving operations for helping displaced citizens. New officials have even been appointed to investigate every possible resource to help those who may suffer from displacement in whatever natural disaster may come in the future.

Launched in 2009, UCDRVWC started off as a small group of volunteers committed to helping the community and those in need. Not only is this organization praised for connecting distressed people with agencies who provide emergency training, food, shelter, water and clothing, but they are also attributed to hosting the Service Summit, a meeting held annually to bring together leaders of the community to discuss how to further improve the state and efficiency of the organization in times of crisis.

After Irene, the campus of SUNY New Paltz itself suffered from flood damage costs up to $1 millioN, according to Associate Professor Brian Obach. When Hurricane Sandy came around, the UCDRVWC demonstrated a much more prepared response, although devastation was not as severe as Hurricane Irene.

“We had implemented all the standard preparations a week in advance before the storm. This included checking the status of fuel tanks, water pressure, roof drains and trimming trees that may fall in severe winds,” Mike Malloy, director of the Environmental Health and Safety department at SUNY New Paltz, said.

Malloy also said he and other members of the Environmental Health and Safety department stayed the night of Irene to make sure everything was functioning.

“The reality is that we made it through,” Malloy said.

Christina Waterman, a fourth-year marketing major shared her experience of being on-campus her first-year when Irene hit.

“No one was scared, we didn’t realize what was really going on at the time,” Waterman said. “We realized when the river overflowed and the towns surrounding campus was severely flooded.”

Despite this, she continued to articulate her satisfaction with the safety measurements campus took after the storm.

“The fact that we had food delivered to our individual halls in the morning after the storm was great and really made us feel safe,” Waterman said.

Considering the amount of money spent on water damages, our campus, like many others, began taking new cautionary measures on water conservations. These measures include automatic sink faucets, metering, waterless urinals and low flow fixtures. It has even been taken into consideration that climate change in the northeast is expected to cause an increase in annual rainfall, therefore pressuring campus facilities to continue to prepare for natural disasters.

Third-year sociology and digital media programming and management double major Adriana Dulmage gave her thoughts on life on-campus during the time of Hurricane Sandy.

“I remember Hasbrouck and the Student Union Building were open, so walking there the day the storm hit was scary,” Dulmage said.

Dulmage said that in contrast to Hurricane Irene, the campus and the town of New Paltz did not experience much devastation as a result of the storm

“The campus didn’t lose power, but some of the town did. The dorms were prepared with food and they let us take the leftovers after a few days,” Dulmage said.

On the contrary, although New Paltz campus and the majority of Ulster County was not experiencing many hardships as a result of the storm, it was clear that the real adversity around campus was the state of emotional well being for students who were natives of Long Island and New York City.

“I was pretty anxious knowing that my family and everyone from home was without power, waiting on four hour lines for gas and having a hard time finding food. At the same time a lot of my friend group was really torn up because their homes and neighborhoods in Staten Island, Long Beach and the Rockaways were completely destroyed,” Dulmage, a Long Island native, said.

Illustrating the common feeling that Long Island and New York City native students experienced, Dulmage also indicated that these students affected had found comfort in being on campus in this time of difficulty.

“There wasn’t much to go back to right after Sandy, a lot of people lost everything at home, but the campus itself got through the storm untouched,” Dulmage said.

From the thoughts of many students, the Campus Facilities Management here at SUNY New Paltz has received high praise in their procedures and protective agendas concerning keeping students and faculty safe in times of disaster. Programs such as “NP Alert” can be seen as a prime example how the safety of students is held in high regard.