UDC Rallies Support for Reservoir Emergency Public Warning System
Caption: This Cannonsville Dam aerial view shows the light-colored turbid discharge that seeped into the Delaware River’s West Branch from July 8 to August 1, 2015 due to a drilling accident before relief wells stopped it. (Photo by NYC DEP)
NARROWSBURG – The Upper Delaware Council, Inc. (UDC) is spearheading an effort to challenge the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYC DEP) to commit to researching and implementing an early public warning system for emergency incidents involving their Delaware River Basin reservoirs.
The non-profit organization which represents 13 towns and townships, as well as the State of New York and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that border along the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, recently sent a letter to NYC DEP and is now encouraging river valley communities to do the same.
The UDC believes that while NYC DEP has protocols in place through written Emergency Action Plans that outline how emergency management agencies would respond to reservoir-related hazards, there is a need for better public communications.
The Council seeks a serious exploration of viable methods to help mitigate the loss to lives, property, and infrastructure that might result from any dam failures or catastrophic weather events that could inundate downstream communities in a matter of precious minutes or hours.
Use Fire Sirens
One proposal that the UDC offers in its July 7 letter is to incorporate the use of existing fire department sirens or air horns to alert the public of river flooding danger through a customized tone or frequency blast.
A public education campaign accompanying its introduction would provide the opportunity to raise awareness about various hazards, discuss other notification procedures such as National Weather Service broadcast alerts, identify local emergency contacts, and help individuals prepare to take personal responsibility for their safety.
By itself, the UDC recognizes that a siren alert could be inadequate but in this region which has spotty cellular service, satellite capabilities, and radio communication methods, it would enhance the timely public notification process at the grassroots level.
Another relatively simple and visual flood warning system could be the posting of signage on the interstate bridges which would be color-corded to indicate any danger of increasing river height.
The Council also continues to encourage NYC DEP in the use of a Reverse-911 program, regular testing and upkeep of existing notification systems to assure their adequacy, and scheduling of training drills to promote familiarity with procedures.
Support and Information
The UDC simultaneously contacted the emergency management offices of the five river valley counties – Delaware, Sullivan, and Orange in NY, Wayne and Pike in PA – to request their assistance in compiling a directory of active or existing sirens that would have reasonable expectations of being heard by the impacted public in the event that the Upper Delaware River experienced a significant threat.
On July 22, the Council sent memos to county, town, and township governments requesting consideration of their support in this advocacy effort via letter or resolution.
That memo also requests information on how the municipalities currently handle river-related emergency situations.
As the body charged with coordinating implementation of the River Management Plan for the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River in partnership with the National Park Service, the UDC’s mission includes objectives to:
• “Provide for the protection of the health, safety, and welfare of residents and visitors while also providing for the protection and preservation of natural resources”; and
• “Prevent river recreational accidents and minimize hazards: Provide better emergency communications and better river information.”
For more information, please visit www.UpperDelawareCouncil.org or call (845) 252-3022.