In the wake of the hurricanes that affected Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, the Nassau Suffolk Water Commissioners’ Association discussed hurricane preparedness at its monthly meeting on Sept. 18. Kenneth P. Wenthen Jr., commissioner of the West Hempstead Water District, joined the conversation, which was led by Leonard Symons, the Town of Oyster Bay’s deputy commissioner of public safety. Symons focused on tropical depressions, hurricanes and the effects of storm surges in local water districts.
“When it comes to hurricane preparedness, or any other emergency condition that could affect the distribution of safe, potable water to the residents of the West Hempstead Water District,” Wenthen said, “gaining as much information as possible to make proper decisions and implementing the necessary procedures is our most important priority.”
At the meeting, which was sponsored by the Roslyn Water District, Symons explained that while some hurricanes and tropical storms are feared because of their strong winds, 90 percent of fatalities are drownings in surging water.
“Unfortunately, social media is changing things, and tends to make everyone think that they’re meteorologists,” Symons said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. Therefore, education of the public, water commissioners and emergency responders is vital. You can’t expect the public to prepare properly if they don’t understand what to do.”
Symons explained the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which defines the well-known categories 1 through 5, and debunked many myths, including what he referred to as “hurricane hype”: network anchors exaggerating threats to boost TV ratings. He also emphasized a four-part, common-sense approach to being ready for hurricane season:
Prepare and build an emergency kit.
Know if, when and where to evacuate.
Know what to do when a hurricane hits.
Know what to do in its aftermath.
“We continue to learn from and take these educational lessons to heart,” said the association’s president, Andrew Bader.
Wenthen, who serves as the group’s treasurer, regularly attends meetings, along with his fellow West Hempstead commissioners, C. John Sparacio and Joseph Marando. “[These meetings] consist of knowledgeable water distribution experts from 21 districts that share their thoughts, viewpoints and critical information with each other on a monthly basis,” Wenthen said.
He added that the West Hempstead water district is prepared to handle hurricane conditions, which officials proved during Hurricane Sandy, when there was no disruption of water service even though the community lost electricity for several days.
“Our emergency generator kicked in to provide the necessary power we required,” Wenthen said, “and since then we’ve added a second generator at our 7th Street facility.”