OCEAN CITY — With the arrival of the official hurricane season next week, state and local emergency service providers along with Delmarva Power officials this week hammered home the importance of residents and visitors to be prepared and engaged.
The 2015 hurricane season officially begins on Monday, June 1 and runs through Nov. 1. Meteorologists are predicting a “well below average” hurricane season this year in the Atlantic, with seven tropical storms predicted, three of which could become hurricanes. With a handful of notable exceptions, most recently the devastating Hurricane Sandy in 2012, many named storms pass by the Ocean City area with little more than high winds, beach erosion and flooding in certain low-lying areas, but officials on Thursday warned, despite the long-term predictions for this season, the next one could be the next Sandy and residents and visitors should prepare for that possibility.
One of the key takeaways from Thursday morning’s press conference with state and local emergency management service providers and Delmarva Power officials was a new program offered by the Town of Ocean City that allows residents and visitors to determine exactly what zone and division they are located. Using a variety of factors, Ocean City officials have created an interactive map of the resort designating areas more susceptible to storm impacts, and by association, evacuations, than others.
The resort is essentially divided into four geographic divisions from the south end of town to the Delaware line, and within each of those divisions are various flood inundation zones. In major storm events, as in the past, there are times when the entire resort is evacuated. With the new division and zone maps, there might be times in the future when specific divisions and zones are at higher risk and need to be evacuated.
“We can’t emphasize enough the importance of knowing your zone and division,” said Ocean City Communications Director Jessica Waters “If a hurricane or natural disaster threatens the area, an evacuation order may be issued. Because of life safety concerns and property damage caused during a disaster or other unusual occurrence, specific properties, multiple locations or even the entire city may require evacuation. Knowing your zone and division will make you aware if and when you have to evacuate. Your zone and division are determined by two variables, property location and vulnerability to flood inundation.”
Waters said residents should be aware of their zones and divisions, but stressed the importance of making the information readily available to the transient population that visits the resort. The interactive map is available at www.oceancitymd.gov/knowyourzone and clicking over the location will tell residents and visitors exactly what zone and division they are in.
“Because the term ‘low-lying area’ can be vague, the new zones help residents and property owners have a clear understanding of their flood vulnerability,” she said. “It’s important to remember that just because you haven’t experienced a flood in the past doesn’t mean you won’t in the future. We’re encouraging those that live here to know their zones and divisions, and those that rent properties or run lodging establishments to make sure their guests are aware of the zone and division of their location.”
Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) Executive Director Clay Stamp, former director of emergency services in Ocean City, said on Thursday despite the long-range forecast for the 2015 season, local residents and visitors need to remain alert and vigilant.
“While the last two hurricane seasons have been relatively quiet, we all remember the devastation from Hurricane Sandy in 2013, especially in the New York City area and on Maryland’s Lower Eastern Shore,” said Stamp. “It’s important to always be prepared because even in a quiet hurricane season, just one hurricane making landfall in our area can be devastating.”
Stamp said with the proliferation of social media, cell phone apps and a bevy of other outlets, disseminating important information is easier than ever.
“Today is the day to become educated,” he said. “Have a plan and become engaged. We have never been in a better position with regards to access to information than we are today.”
Ocean City Emergency Services Director Joe Theobald said it is up to the citizens to become engaged with their emergency services providers and utility companies in the event of a storm or other disaster.
“Bad things can happen sometimes and the community has a responsibility to work with its government and its emergency service providers,” he said. “We come back here every year with the same message. Have a plan because citizens need to be involved.”
National Weather Service Warning Coordinator Meteorologist Bill Sammler warned after several close calls and near misses, residents and visitors often become apathetic to pending storm warnings.
“My biggest concern is complacency,” he said. “The latest forecast just this week predicted a less-than-average hurricane season, but there isn’t always a correlation between the forecast and what actually happens during the season. We might only have six or eight named storms all year, but we never know which one of those might be a big one. The best thing to do is ignore the seasonal forecast and prepare as if this year is going to be the year.”
Worcester County Emergency Services Director Fred Webster agreed complacency is often a challenge, particularly with the visitors to the local area.
“People come here to unwind and relax, but they have to do so with a certain level of awareness,” he said. “We’ll do our part and remain in constant contact with our state and local partners along with Delmarva Power, but we need our citizens and visitors to be aware and utilize the information provided.”
American Red Cross of Delmarva Executive Director Pat Delaney hammered home the importance of preparedness.
“The citizens need to take ownership and have their own plan,” he said. “By taking a few easy actions like making an emergency kit and a family plan, you can prepare for hurricanes and other emergencies. Even if you took action to prepare last hurricane season, it’s important that you revisit and update your evacuation plan and check your kit for expired items. At the moment, I’m here, my wife is at work and our kids are at school. Have a plan to reconnect in the event of an emergency.”
Finally, Delmarva Power officials said they have plans in place for potential outages and constantly drill on how to restore power in the event of a storm.
“Despite the early prediction of a less active season, it is essential that all of us remain vigilant and be prepared for hurricane season,” said Delmarva Power Senior Public Affairs Manager Jim Smith. “We want our customers to know that we are committed to an emergency response system that makes safety a priority, restores power as quickly as possible and provides customers with information on how to prepare for and deal with weather-related outages.”
Just as citizens are encouraged to have a plan, Smith said Delmarva Power is constantly making improvements to prevent or at least limit outages during emergencies.
“We also believe that preventative maintenance is essential in reducing the potential of service interruptions caused by stormy weather,” he said. “We plan to invest more than $1 billion over the next several years to upgrade our electric infrastructure. We’ve done that already here in Ocean City with the major transmission reliability project we completed last year.”