Irene and Lee were nearly four years ago, but memories of those storms remain clear for many people in our region. Last week, officials from the Adirondack towns of Jay, Keene and Black Brook met with emergency services and response personnel to review the plan of action in the event rivers should flood.
Ausable Forks in the town of Jay is so named because the Ausable River splits into two branches at the village. Homes were lost and infrastructure ripped apart during flooding in the spring of 2011 followed a few months later by Tropical Storm Irene.
Deputy Supervisor Archie Depo says they try to meet annually to discuss flood preparedness. Last week heavy snowpack remained in the mountains, a large amount of ice had accumulated in the Ausable River, temperatures were rising and rain was predicted. Officials were concerned there could be a repeat of severe flooding. While the flooding did not develop, Depo says their experience in 2011 has taught them to prepare for the worst. “We don’t take anything for granted because nobody expected what we got. We prepare for the very worst. We get ahold of the Red Cross. We have everybody in place. Every fire department, the emergency services. We have our shelters all set to go. Everybody’s on a moment’s standby. Everybody’s ready to roll. We keep constant watch of the rivers.”
Keene is another community that rebuilt in 2011 after spring floodwaters and Irene destroyed homes, the fire department, roads and bridges. Supervisor Bill Ferebee notes that storm taught the community numerous lessons. “We’ve learned that we can never be over-prepared. We did learn for example the proper place to have our food pantries. To make sure and have our areas for our people to go to in the event that they can’t get to their home or in the event that roads are closed in the area. We developed quite an extensive call list of anyone that lives within the flood corridor.”
Regional Red Cross representative Gary Ferris attended last week’s meeting. Prior to 2011, he says, many responses to flooding were after the fact. Ferris says the Jay and Keene communities are on the right track in calling together all personnel who would be involved in flood response. “What they’re doing is appropriate for really any community. We subscribe to the whole incident command structure where agencies work together. We try to come up with response plans that are redundant so that if something goes wrong there’s another process in place that can pick up. We try to make our efforts what are called interoperable so we can communicate with any other agency that’s involved. We’re all on the same page. Years ago that didn’t happen. Now we all work together. But the key is for everybody to come together ahead of time and put those incident command protocols into place.”
Bill Ferebee adds that they were unprepared in 2011 because Irene was not predicted to hit the region. “We can’t predict the water and you can’t be over careful. Irene was not called to hit us. It was the storm after Irene, Lee, that was scheduled to give us more of an impact. So we learned at that point that you can’t truly rely on forecasts. You have to use some common sense and take what we’ve learned but to react sooner than later.”
Deputy Supervisor Archie Depo reports officials continue to monitor the Ausable River and there is currently not a high risk of flooding.