Natural Disasters

The Blizzard Blackout

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Dave Deegan

We’re all becoming accustomed to seeing the latest news images of a natural disaster touching the lives of our friends and family across the country. Then, one day, it’s your own community and family.

I live in one of the towns south of Boston hammered in last week’s blizzard that dumped feet of snow across a large swath of the Northeast. Hundreds of thousands of families in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts went into a blackout in the middle of February. No lights, no TV, and in many cases, no heat or warm food.

The first morning we awoke without power or heat, our home was already down to about 55 degrees. The second morning, it was 41 degrees and I couldn’t get my mind off the thought that, if it got 10 degrees colder, our pipes would freeze.

Even the cat seemed freaked out by our circumstances.

I work at EPA, and yes, I care deeply about the environmental impacts of my lifestyle. During our power depravation, I kept considering how much we rely on electricity so we can lead comfortable, healthy lives. And that generating electricity has impacts on clean air, clean water and greenhouse gases. But I wanted my heat and lights back on.

We were fairly well prepared, though not completely or as well as we should have been. The car had a full tank. We had flashlights and batteries, plus plenty of bottled water. We had food that wouldn’t go bad, if we needed it in a pinch. Like good New Englanders, we were dressed in many layers. A battery-powered radio was handy, so we could get local news (and have something to listen to once it was dark, but too early to fall asleep for the night). Cell phones were charged, but turned off except for occasional checks of the news.

Access to social media was a plus: following Twitter updates from state and local emergency responders, and the power company working around the clock to get power restored, helped us feel less isolated in our chilly abode.

In the midst of the continuing storm during the second day, my wife said to me, “A blizzard is much more fun when you can watch a movie and make popcorn.” Yes it is.

There are many good resources to keep in mind, especially seeking ways to be better prepared:

Ready

Connecticut
Maine
Massachusetts
New Hampshire
Rhode Island
Vermont

About the author: Dave Deegan works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. When he’s not at work, he loves being outdoors in one of New England’s many special places.

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Maintaining Healthy Waters in Emergencies

Is your water supply secure in case of an emergency or natural disaster?

By Christina Catanese

The CDC’s recent blog about emergency preparedness for the zombie apocalypse got us thinking about Healthy Waters in emergency situations, undead or otherwise.  How can the safety of water and the health of people be maintained during an emergency, and what preparations can be taken in advance to be ready for any issues you may face before, during and after an event?  Whether you are a citizen trying to protect your own health or a facility operator responsible for protecting the health of many others in your community, the best time to plan to protect your source of water is before an emergency.  And whether the emergency involves zombies, a hurricane, or floods, preparedness for water emergencies is key.

Everyone depends on a safe supply of water to operate their business, a hospital or school.  Water is needed to fight fires and it restores hope in communities hit hard by natural disasters.  But natural disasters or other emergencies can disrupt drinking water supplies and wastewater disposal systems.  Conservation or emergency disinfection orders can be issued to affected water system consumers in the aftermath of an event, if the safety of water supplies cannot be immediately ensured.

The tornado outbreak at the end of April 2011 hit states in the southeast the hardest, but in Region 3, storms in Virginia resulted in damage to a number of water systems in the southwestern part of the state, mainly because of power being knocked out by high winds. In some areas, boil water advisories were issued because the water was not safe to drink.  Water systems and water treatment plants need power to treat and distribute water, so it’s important to restore power as soon as possible, either through emergency generators or priority restoration of service.  This protects health of people (by ensuring that affected populations have access to safe drinking water), pets and water bodies (by making sure that waste gets treated before it is discharged to rivers).

Have your own septic system?  Be aware of actions you need to take to protect you and your family if your system becomes flooded.  Have a private well for your drinking water?  Check out our blog “Is your well well?” for information about how to maintain the quality of your private well or disinfect it if necessary.

There are both planning and recovery efforts in any emergency event.  That’s why EPA has provided resources on suggested pre- and post- disaster event activities to water facilities, like tabletop exercises, staff training, and facility evaluation.  EPA has also provided grants to purchase emergency generators so they have a backup source of power in case of an outage.  To learn more about emergency generators see our regional factsheet.

There’s also the Water/Wastewater Agencies Response Network, a network that lets water utilities in an emergency situation request the help of other utilities, which can provide emergency assistance, from people to equipment.  It can also be used for smaller, non-disaster emergencies, as it was recently during a water main break in Harrisburg, when nearby water companies responded to the PaWARN activation to assist with the repairs. If your utility is not a member, contact your WARN Chair.

Have more questions about water security in the Mid Atlantic RegionFind out who to ask at EPA.

Have you assembled an emergency kit in your house, or taken any other preparatory measures for an emergency?  Do you know of any preparations being done in your community?  Get involved with community based resiliency!

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, and her work focuses on data analysis and management, GIS mapping and tools, communications, and other tasks that support the work of Regional water programs. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Political Science and an M.S. in Applied Geosciences with a Hydrogeology concentration. Trained in dance (ballet, modern, and other styles) from a young age, Christina continues to perform, choreograph and teach in the Philadelphia area.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Question of the Week: How have you prepared for emergencies?

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

Hurricanes, spring floods, and other incidents can all wreak havoc with our daily lives. Here at EPA, we’re ready to respond in an official way. For individual people, preparing can range from keeping extra food and water to making evacuation plans. Either way, it pays to think ahead. In fact, September is National Preparedness Month.

How have you prepared for emergencies?

.

En español: Cada semana hacemos una pregunta relacionada al medio ambiente. Por favor comparta con nosotros sus pensamientos y comentarios. Siéntase en libertad de responder a comentarios anteriores o plantear nuevas ideas. Preguntas previas.

Huracanes, inundaciones y otros incidentes pueden arruinar nuestras vidas cotidianas. Aquí en EPA, estamos listos para responder de manera oficial. Para los individuos, los preparativos pueden comprender el almacenar alimentos y agua adicionales, así como hacer planes de evacuación. De cualquier manera, es bueno anticipar las cosas. De hecho, septiembre es el Mes Nacional de Preparación.

¿Cómo se ha preparado para las emergencias?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Twister TV

About the author: Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation scientist with EPA, and serves as Chief of the Environmental Assessment and Monitoring Branch in Kansas City.

EPA has a broad and powerful mission to protect human health and the environment. We often think of this in the context of human impacts on the environment, but sometimes it is the other way around.

In Kansas City, a threat to our well-being rears its head every spring. I could tell it arrived the other night when I flipped on the TV to watch LOST and the screen lit up with red and green splotches over a map. It was storm season again and meteorologists had pre-empted Must-see TV for Twister TV with the fervor of election-night coverage or the latest celebrity car chase.

photo of a home demolished by a twisterIt was our first warning of the season, and my wife and I scooped up the kids and raced down into the basement. The all clear came, but another siren sounded an hour or so later. We repeated the drill (this time with sleeping children) and trudged to bed after another all clear. Not until the morning did we learn that two twisters touched down next to our local drug store. Five years prior a tornado ripped through Kansas City just a mile south of our house (my wife ever the wiser of the pair dragged me inside reminding me that I was now a dad). Sadly this was reinforced two years ago when our good friends lost their home in Springfield, Missouri to a twister. They had a newborn, which, as my friend told me, was the only reason they got off the couch and ran to the closet that saved their life.

Last year was a rough one for natural disasters in our Region. Everyone remembers the devastation that occurred in Greensburg, Kansas. At EPA, we get called in to assist with public health and environmental problems in the aftermath of events like the tornado in Greensburg or the flooding that struck Coffeyville, Kansas. It is heartbreaking to hear the stories of our neighbors, especially the occasional ones who ignored warnings.

Yes, newscasters tend towards exaggeration and embellishment to ensure rapt audiences, but don’t let that overwhelm the importance of heeding the underlying message. Next time you are faced with a flood, fire, hurricane, or tornado warning make sure you get yourself and family to a safe place instead of watching TV. And if anybody in Kansas City needs to know what happened on LOST let me know… I DVR’d the re-broadcast.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.