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October 29, 2012

What to Expect From Hurricane Sandy — a Seven Days Preparedness Guide

Hurricane-sandy-satellite-7So, you wanted some much-needed relief from the seemingly endless barrage of 2012 election coverage and campaign advertising? Well, you've got it — in spades.

Hurricane Sandy now has Vermont's full and undivided attention and will continue to dominate the airwaves and blogosphere for the foreseeable future — or at least as long as the power stays on. (Is it just me, or does the latest NASA satellite photo of Hurricane Sandy look like a huge fist about to punch the entire eastern seaboard in the groin?)

For the latest, straight-from-the-horse's-mouth local forecast from The National Weather Service Office in Burlington, click here

In the meantime, here's the 11 a.m. update from Vermont Emergency Management's emergency operations center in Waterbury:

Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn said he does not expect Hurricane Sandy to be another Irene in terms of the scale or breadth of devastation in Vermont. The storm's punch is expected to peak in Vermont at around 8 p.m. Monday night, with the strongest winds and heaviest rains lasting through 4 a.m. Tuesday morning.

The National Weather Service is predicting 1 to 2 inches of rain to fall in Vermont, with the greatest amounts of rain expected in the southern parts of the state. For this reason, the Colchester Technical Rescue Team is staged in Manchester, Vt, putting them within easier striking distance of southern low-lying areas most susceptible to flooding. The Vermont State Police has all of its 350 troopers either on duty or on call for at least the next 36 hours. 

Ditto for the Vermont Agency of Tranportation's 1300 road workers. Currently, VTrans has no plans to close any roads as a precautionary measure. Nevertheless, emergency planners are asking Vermonters to curtail their driving today and tomorrow, especially during the peak hours — 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. — of the storm.

That said, for people who need to be on the roads, VTrans has activated its Vermont 511 Online Map of Road conditions. For other Sandy-specific travel info, click here.

Despite the relatively low rainfall predictions, Flynn characterized the wind field from Hurricane Sandy as "tremendous," with the most damage likely to result from wind gusts. The National Weather Service is predicting 60- to 80-mph wind gusts along the Green Mountains and the Northeast Kingdom, which will likely result in widespread downed trees, limbs and power lines. Thankfully, the foliage season is past peak.

As a precautionary measure, Vermont Emergency Management and the Burlington Fire Department are also asking Vermonters to clear their yards of all campaign signs, Halloween decorations, trampolines, lawn furniture, potted plants and anything else than can become an airborne projectile in high winds and injure people and damage property. Also, don't forget to clear storm drains, rain gutters and culverts so the water can drain properly.

Green Mountain Power is also reminding people that if Image002they come across a downed power line, never touch it. All power lines should be treated as if they are live at all times. When clearing downed trees, be sure they are not in contact with power lines as trees can conduct electricity and you can be electrocuted. Report the line to your local utility and fire department, stay at least 50 feet away from it and keep children and pets away as well.

If you lose power and activate a generator, make sure it's always running outdoors and is not blowing exhaust back into your home. Also make sure that smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are working and have fresh back-up batteries in them.

Some other suggested actions in advance of power outages include:

  • Check flashlights and portable radios to ensure that they are working, and you have extra batteries. A battery powered radio is an important source of critical weather and emergency information during a storm.
  • If your water supply could be affected by a power outage (a well-water pump system), fill your bathtub and spare containers with water. Water in the bathtub should be used for sanitation purposes only, not as drinking water. Pouring a pail of water from the tub directly into the bowl can flush a toilet.
  • Set your refrigerator and freezer to their coldest settings (remember to reset them back to normal once power is restored). During an outage, do not open the refrigerator or freezer door unnecessarily. Food can stay cold in a full refrigerator for up to 24 hours and in a well-packed freezer for 48 hours (24 hours if it is half-packed).
  • If you have medication that requires refrigeration, check with your pharmacist for guidance on proper storage during an extended outage.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and guidelines when using a generator. Always use outdoors, away from windows and doors. Carbon Monoxide (CO) fumes are odorless and can quickly accumulate indoors. Never try to power the house wiring by plugging the generator directly into household wiring, a practice known as “back-feeding.” This is extremely dangerous and presents an electrocution risk to utility workers and neighbors served by the same utility transformer. It also bypasses some of the built-in household circuit protection devices.

For more preparedness tips visit:  Weather Forecast:  Vermont Emergency Management on Facebook:

Mental Health: Some of the biggest impacts of Hurricane Sandy may be psychological rather than physical. Especially in light of the number of people affected by last year's Irene, Bob Bick, director of mental health and substance abuse services at the HowardCenter in Burlington, wants to remind Vermonters that mental health clinicians are gearing up for this storm as seriously as everyone else. All the community mental health centers in the state have disaster response teams in place.

In Chittenden County, the HowardCenter has a calldown list of about 30 staff trained in doing disaster response, clinical interventions and posttraumatic counseling.  They have protocols in place for clinical counseling for the general public, and have also asked case managers and supervisors to review their case lists for clients who may be particularly traumatized by the noise and threat of the storm. If you or someone you know needs immediate mental health crisis intervention, call the HowardCenter's First Call 24/7 Crisis Line. For Children and Families: 802-488-7777. 

Additionally, Howard's Mobile Crisis Team is a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week program that provides immediate response to requests from Chittenden County residents, 18 and older, and their support systems. Any person who is concerned about a mental health issue may call the Crisis Hotline for a consultation with a mental health professional. For more information, please call 802.488.6400.

Howard also has the Act 1 Bridge Program, which will be open 24/7 to ensure that people have a place to be and can get out of the elements. Bick says that it's still warm enough outside that there are a fair number of homeless people living outdoors and camping in the greater Burlington area. Outreach teams have been out beating the bushes to remind people where they can can go to get out of the elements.

"I think everybody is as prepared as can be, given that we don't know what's going to happen until it happens," says Bick. "but I think we're in a reasonably good position to be able respond to whatever presents. There's been a fair amount of advanced notice about this storm, which has been a good thing."

After the storm: Want to lend a hand but aren't sure where to go or whom to call? The good folks at VTResponse — "Helping Vermonters Help Vermonters" — who sprang into action last year to help organize relief for victims of Tropical Storm Irene, have once again mobilized to help coordinate volunteers and donations.  They've also got an interactive map for crowd sourced damage reports. Check it out here.

So, what about Vermont Yankee? According to Public Safety Commissioner Flynn, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has that all covered. Whew. Glad that's taken care of.

However, for those who want a slightly different reality check, Vermont nuclear safety watchdog Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Energy Education, just posted a podcast this morning discussing what effects, if any, Hurricane Sandy could have on operating U.S. nuclear plants. According to Gundersen, nuke plants rely on off-site power to cool reactors. But in the event the off-site power goes off, plants generally rely on backup diesel generators on site. Just some more news to cheer you up.

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