January 01, 1900

Red Cross, State Ed seek help in Long Island hurricane shelters

Caption: A Walton Elementary School employee examines repairs to a flood-damaged wall.

Many Long Islanders may not feel threatened by hurricanes considering they survived Gloria, Floyd and others. However, given its location as an island left vulnerable to the Atlantic Ocean, Long Island is very susceptible to the powerful and destructive nature of hurricanes.

Long Island has been threatened by, and at times hit with, hurricanes. And while it is estimated that 80 percent to 90 percent of people living in hurricane-prone areas thinks they have experienced the worst of a major hurricane, most likely they have not. This can give people a false sense of what a major hurricane actually is or the potential damage it can cause. The hurricane frequency is on the upswing once again, which increases the chances for landfall everywhere along the east coast of the U.S. According to the United States Landfalling Hurricane Probability Project, there is a 30 percent probability that New York City/Long Island will be hit with a tropical storm or hurricane in 2006. The normal probability is 16 percent.

"NYSUT members and their locals need to be adequately prepared to face such a challenge and to assist communities in any way possible," said union Vice President Kathleen Donahue.

Shelters will be key

In the event of a hurricane, hundreds of thousands of people could be evacuated from their homes. Many would go to inland shelters and would not be able to get off Long Island in time. There is a tremendous shortage of Red Cross disaster volunteers on Long Island and not enough trained individuals to staff all of the shelters (which are primarily located in schools and higher education facilities). Past emergencies have shown that it is extremely helpful when school or campus staff volunteer to complete the Red Cross shelter training and to assist in staffing shelters in their own areas. Laura Sahr, emergency management liaison for the State Education Department, points out: "Schools and colleges are a focal point in the community. Who knows them better than the people who work in them?"

General Municipal Law 92-c provides, with approval of the superintendent of schools, paid leave (not to exceed 20 days per calendar year) for state, municipal and school employees who participate in disaster relief operations upon the written request for such services from the Red Cross.

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