With the start of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season 23 days away, hundreds of people attended a hurricane preparedness conference Wednesday in Massachusetts.. The first of its kind event was hosted by the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.
Weather experts warned that Tropical Storm Irene, which left billions of dollars in damage to the region was , in the words of one, a “ walk in the park” compared to the devastation that would result if a full blown hurricane barreled through. There have been close calls, but its been nearly a generation since a named storm made landfall as a hurricane in New England.
Despite, the rarity of hurricanes, the region appears no better or worse prepared than elsewhere, according to Bill Read, the director of the National Hurricane Center.
Read urged the hundreds of public safety officials and emergency management specialists at Wednesday’s conference at the Devens Common Center in central Massachusetts not to be in denial when they see a forecast that has a hurricane tracking to New England. He said since the 1990s hurricane tracking errors,48 hours from landfill, have been cut in half . Forecasting a storms intensity , however remains tricky.
Read said the National Hurricane Center is working to overcome public complacency about storms by developing a communication plan using social media.
Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency Director Kurt Schwartz said turnout for the conference, which had 300 registered participants, was overwhelming. Schwartz said as Irene made clear, hurricanes are not just a coastal problem.
The goals of the conference included learning more about the science of storms, mitigating the consequences, managing the aftermath and improving communications with the public.
In addition to public safety officials, representatives from the state’s major utility companies, hospitals, and several large employers were also registered to attend. Presenters included representatives from the National Weather Service, The US Army Corps of Engineers, and Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.
Massachusetts Lt Governor Tim Murray said the administration has worked hard to build partnerships with local governments to improve public safety.
To coordinate emergency responses, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency has activated its emergency operations center nine times in the last six years. MEMA has a new mobile command center which was on display at the conference.