Weathering the storm

By Carolan DiFiore

For the Wire

Downed wires were prevalent throughout Bucks County after Hurricane Sandy hit last October.

With Superstorm Sandy in the rear view mirror, local officials are gearing up for another intense hurricane season and encouraging area residents to do the same.

“For us, preparation began months ago,” Scott Forster, director of Bucks County Emergency Management and Services, said in a phone interview.

Forster has been busy working with local municipalities and power companies to ensure a prompt response when another major storm barrels through the area. They have identified priority areas of concern in the region.

A recent report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is forecasting an active or extremely active hurricane season — which began on June 1. There is a 70 percent chance of 13 to 20 named storms and, of these, up to 11 could become hurricanes, with winds measuring up to 74 mph or stronger.

In Superstorm Sandy last October, Bucks and Montgomery counties were hit hardest within the state of Pennsylvania, with almost a quarter-million customers out of power in Bucks County and more than a quarter million in Montgomery, according to PECO.

Although much can be learned from storms that hit the area in the past, local officials say that every storm presents different challenges and can be handled in a myriad of ways.

“There’s no cookie-cutter approach to dealing with a hurricane,” said Forster.

This has resulted in first responders taking an “all-hazards” approach to dealing with storms, leaving them ready to handle whatever a storm has to throw at them.

“[Hurricanes] Irene, Lee and Sandy were all different; each are going to bring with them different aspects of response elements,” Scott Mickalonis, deputy director of Emergency Management in Montgomery County, said.

In 2011, Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee brought major flooding damages to the surrounding area, while Superstorm Sandy was quite a different monster, bringing with her whipping winds that took down trees and power lines.

“Part of our job is to be prepared for all types of hazards,” said Mickalonis.

“Our hope is that we want to learn something from every event,” said Mickalonis. “There is a real sense of resilience and that whole community approach where we bring in organizations who want to help and work with them to bring back and restore the community.”