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Agencies Drill To Prep For Severe Mohawk River Flooding

A car sits half-buried after massive flooding swept through downtown Windham, N.Y. from Tropical Storm Irene.
Ryan Delaney/WAMC
A car sits half-buried after massive flooding swept through downtown Windham, N.Y. from Tropical Storm Irene.

With the memory of the destruction of Hurricanes Irene and Lee still fresh five years later, government agencies are participating in a three-day drill to prepare for catastrophic flooding along the Mohawk River.

A triple whammy of storms:  Irene, Lee and Sandy, changed the way New York's top officials reacted to climate change. In 2012, Governor Andrew Cuomo declared  "extreme weather is the new normal."   "We're seeing things that we've never seen. We see floods where homes that have been dry for a hundred years get hit with floods and get totally destroyed." 

A year earlier, severe flooding along the Mohawk impacted several communities. At that time it was uncovered that a task force had been created some five years earlier should have been able to help New Yorkers prepare for calamity wrought by Hurricane Irene. However, the 14 members of the New York State Canal Mitigation Task Force never convened, not even for a single session, prompting outrage from Republican Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, who told WAMC:  "This was a total dereliction of duty because not one meeting, not one report, and they could have done some important work over the years...  we can't afford to have 'ghost ship' commissions with commissioners who aren't meeting who are getting paid on the taxpayers’ dime."

Fast forward to 2016. Times and opinions have changed. Officials don't want New Yorkers unprepared in case of another weather disaster. Local, state and federal agencies along with the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army have been participating in the exercise along the Mohawk River that is being run by state emergency management officials.

American Red Cross Eastern New York communications director Kimmy Venter: "It's a great opportunity for us to practice our skills and also continue building relationships with all the other agencies that we would work with during this type of event. When we're not actively responding we always want to be focused on preparedness and building resiliency in the communities that we serve."

Kevin Wisely, the deputy Commissioner for New York State's division of homeland security emergency services, explains the drill is set up to test emergency management software and communications among government agencies.  "It's a series of different activities that all surround a response to a multi-jurisidictional event across the numerous boundaries and jurisdictions where we bring the public safety agencies together, co-ordinate those resource requests and the deployment of resources. As we continue thorugh the next couple of days, we'll have continuing escalation to the event with some other corresponding events that will happen in New York which will really tax our resources, and that's what we're trying to do. Tax our resources, tax our infinite management system, to the point where we'll need to request federal assistance."

Organizers say the exercise includes simulating a severe weather event at the state's emergency operations center in Albany and at the Federal Emergency Management Agency's regional operations center in New Jersey. There will be a mock recovery and damage assessment session.

The Red Cross and FEMA offer free smartphone apps that monitor weather conditions and give alerts when dangerous conditions are present. Both are available for iPhone and Android users in their respective app stores.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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