Wielding a “multi-tool” next to a table laden with survival gear, Toni Harp spoke about what people can do to prepare for storms—and what the city can do to help them.
Mayoral candidate Harp (pictured) made those statements at a campaign event Wednesday afternoon at the East Shore senior center on Townsend Avenue.
She laid out a number of “storm preparedness improvements” during her visit to a neighborhood that’s been hardest hit by recent extreme weather, including storms Irene and Sandy, and last winter’s record snowfall.
Harp is running for mayor against Justin Elicker. Voters head to the polls on Nov. 5. She was joined at Wednesday’s event by Morris Cove Alderman Sal DeCola, Westville Adlerman Sergio Rodriguez and fellow state Sen. Martin Looney.
Seniors are among the most vulnerable when a storm hits, Harp said. She said the city needs to make sure the city provides them the best possible services.
Among the improvements she suggested:
• Improve the city’s emergency management website to make it more interactive, and so that it has real-time information during a storm.
• Create a toll-free number that people can call for pre-recorded information during a storm. People would be able to bypass the recording and speak to a person in the Emergency Operations Center.
• Provide information on public access TV during storms.
• Revive the education arm of the public works department, to educate people about what to do in emergencies. She suggested mailed pamphlets and refrigerator magnets.
• Update the city’s fleet of emergency vehicles, many of which are 10 years old or more.
• Stage more drills with mock weather events, to help the city prepare coordinated response.
Harp also suggested that people put together response kits to be prepared for emergencies. They should gather together things like bottled water, canned food, toilet paper, bleach, duct tape, and flash lights, Harp said.
“We’ve got to start getting prepared,” Harp said.
She later suggested creating a system that would allow people to track where public works trucks are using the GPS units in the trucks.
City Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts said that wouldn’t be possible with the current GPS system, but it might be due for an upgrade anyway.
“I have a very good record of being very involved and on top of all the storms we’ve had so far,” said Elicker. “The most important thing is plan, plan, plan. We’re not only going to see more extreme weather events with more frequency. We also need to be prepared for things like terrorist attacks like what happened in Boston and gun attacks like what happened in Newtown.”
Elicker said he would work with city departments to “envision every possible scenario.” He said the city should run mock scenarios based not only on what the city has seen in the past, but on the more extreme events it may see in the future.
After preparation, the next key task is communication, Elicker said. The city needs to do a better job of setting standard procedures and telling people, for instance, what side of the street to park on in a snowstorm.“We can mail people with a refrigerator magnet with—this is what you do in this type of scenario.”
The city also needs to look at what kind of infrastructure to invest in. It should do a cost-benefit analysis to see whether it makes more sense to buy more payloaders for snow removal or if it’s better to rent or contract, he said.