While Southold residents were huddling at home in the dark or at shelters during Hurricane Sandy, the town’s emergency management team was working around the clock to ensure their safety.
From opening shelters and ordering evacuations to clearing and closing roads flooded by the storm, the 12-member emergency team and a large contingent of town workers were on the front lines when the storm hit and stayed on the job for the duration.
For their dedicated work, they are The Suffolk Times’ overall People of the Year.
The team is headed by Supervisor Scott Russell, who made the strategic call to issue mandatory evacuation notices the day before the storm.
Assistant deputy emergency preparedness coordinator Lloyd Reisenberg said this is the first time since he began working with the town that Southold ordered mandatory evacuations.
“I think Supervisor Russell’s declaration was hard, but he made the right call,” said Mr. Reisenberg. “We had a very large meeting with the fire chiefs where we gave the instructions to evacuate. There were some areas where people were wondering why they were evacuated and others where they asked why we didn’t get there sooner. I think it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
“Next time, people should understand that, if we make that call, a lot of thought goes behind it,” he added. “Between the storm surge and the high tide, this was really a storm to be reckoned with.”
In addition to Mr. Reisenberg and Mr. Russell, the 12-member team included Police Chief Martin Flatley, Lieutenant William Sawicki, Mike Imbriglio of Fishers Island, fire coordinators Thomas Martin and Bob Scott, human services director Karen McLaughlin, communications coordinators Donald Fisher and Charles Burnham, Greenport deputy mayor George Hubbard and Highway Superintendent Pete Harris.
“We put some very long days and long nights in the basement of the police station, during, before and after the event,” Mr. Russell said during a recent Town Board meeting.
In advance of the storm, the town opened emergency shelters at the Mattituck, Southold, Greenport, Oysterponds and Fishers Island schools and the Human Resources Center in Mattituck where residents under mandatory evacuation could stay during the worst of the storm.
Mr. Reisenberg said the town made full use of its new website, providing residents with regularly updated emergency information.
The town learned a lot from Hurricane Irene in 2011, said Mr. Harris. He added that his highway crews were able to complete the post-storm cleanup in half the time of previous storm responses.
“What’s the chance of having two storms two years in a row?” he said. “Southold Town and its employees did a fantastic job of getting the town back in order in a reasonable amount of time.”
In addition to its efforts with various local officials, members of the committee also worked with FEMA, which set up shop briefly outside Town Hall to help residents file application for federal assistance, and with Suffolk County’s emergency response team.
Mr. Harris was quick to point out that most of the hard work was done by workers who may have never set foot in the emergency headquarters.
“This town can be thankful for its employees. They did a yeoman’s job,” he said. “We had a great plan. It was put into effect. People in this town didn’t realize how fortunate we were. We missed the direct bullet. We got wounded, but we didn’t get hit.”