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Highway Department

After a severe July 2014 storm that knocked out electric service to 3,508 Town of Lansing homes and another 626 in the Village of Lansing, then Highway Superintendent Jack French told the Town Board that Lansing is not prepared for disasters and admonished the board to develop a disaster preparedness plan.  More than two years later the Town is still catching up.  An Emergency preparedness Committee was formed, and last year four hand held radios were purchased.  Last month the Town Board approved the money to purchase an emergency generator.  When that is installed over the next three weeks or so, some of French's concerns will have been addressed.

"There is a plan in place.  It simply needs to be fine tuned," says Lansing Supervisor Ed LaVigne.  "I have the utmost confidence in our Highway Superintendent, Charlie Purcell.  He has done a wonderful job this year, as did Jack French before him.  They're both good men... they're just good people.  The radios were purchased and now we're working on the other aspect of it.  Why it wasn't done over the last two and a half years -- I don't have an explanation for that and I'm not going to criticize past administrations.  I'm focusing on implementing it sooner than later."

The main issues French complained of were communication and the lack of power at the Highway Department, which meant, among other things, that fuel pumps used for the department's trucks and for the Lansing Fire Department, didn't work.  Some homes were without power for three days after the storm.  If that had been true at the Highway Department it could have become a serious issue for the entire town.  French also said he could not reach his crew by radio or cell phone as he drove through Lansing valleys during the storm, which caused flooding as well as downed trees and power lines.

The radios were approved after Emergency preparedness Committee member and volunteer emergency responder Dan Ferguson presented a draft of a new Emergency Preparedness Plan to the Lansing Town Board in early October, 2015.  Board responded by approving new communications equipment for the Highway Department as well as an emergency generator.  Four special hand-held radios, capable of tying into the county-wide emergency network, are currently in service.  But funding for the generator was never approved, even though the idea of purchasing one was.

Highway Department Fuel PumpNo power, no pump, no fuel for Highway Department and Fire Department vehicles. Town officials say it is vital to maintain elctricity at the Highway Department in order to maintain the capability to respond to emergencies.

Purcell began pushing for an emergency generator over two years ago when he was Deputy Highway Superintendent.  He has been tenaciously following up with costs and a plan for getting a generator installed, bringing it to the Board again at a working meeting last month.  Purcell says the current board is responding to needs while holding his department accountable for expenditures.

"We finally got things going in the right direction," he says.  "In the past the Town Board has said 'we really need to do this' but then, 'do we really need to do it or are we worried about what it costs?'  When it comes to emergencies you want to know you're prepared.  It's like when you buy a $400,000 fire truck it's a lot of money, but when you need it you need it."

The Highway Department building is powered with solar panels as well as power from the NYSEG (New York State Electric and Gas) grid.  One issue is that when the solar panels were installed municipalities were prevented from selling power back to the grid, so they only provide power when the sun is out.  The generator will close that power gap, providing electricity any time of day when the power is out.

The $15,000+ (not including installation) 48KW generator will provide a third source of power for the Highway Department.  It has an automatic transfer switch that will turn the generator on when the power goes out, and will perform weekly tests.  Because NYSEG has imposed a moratorium on natural gas delivery to new customers due to existing delivery pipelines reaching their capacities, the generator will have to be run on propane.  Purcell says the generator can be transferred to natural gas if it becomes available in the future.

"I'd say over the last year the Board's been proactive as far as looking at needs that have been held off," he says.  "We've been able to fulfill some of those needs.  It's been a fantastic year with the board I've had to to work with.  In the 23 years I've been here, it's all business.  It feels good that we're truly taking care of everybody, and things are getting done and the Board is not procrastinating.  It was frustrating a few years ago, but now the Board has worked on a fund balance plan and a capital plan."

Purcell says the Town has invested about $8,000 in modern radios that tie into all the emergency departments in Tompkins County, and are reportedly more reliable in less than ideal situations.  He says that getting up to 100% readiness will take time.

Highway DepartmentIf the power goes out during the day the solar panels may be enough. But in stormy weather and/or at night a new generator will insure the Highway Department can operate at full capacity in emergencies.

"We're not fully prepared yet, but we are working toward enhancing that system,' he says.  "We got four portable radios so we would have the ability to communicate if there is some natural disaster.  We have an outdated radio system that we use for ourselves.  I've worked with the Fire Chief because he has expertise in communications.  he's gathered some pricing and information for me so we can get all the trucks up to date.  It's costly.  We're probably looking at around $40,000 or so to get everything up to date."

There is also talk of a generator for the Town Hall, to provide a place for people to go for heat and water if those services are down in their homes.  The Lansing Schools also provide some relief for residents whose power and utilities are out.

In a new edition of the Town newsletter LaVigne is also asking residents to prepare themselves for emergencies with at least three days worth of supplies and personal and neighborhood plans.  He says that personal emergency preparedness is as important as what the Town can provide.  He says the Town can't take care of everybody, so it is important for citizens to have a level of preparedness to work in conjunction with what the Town can do.

"That's the harsh reality," he says.  "If people can take care of themselves first until we get to them, that would be the appropriate way to go in my opinion."


"I'd love to have a 'red alert'," LaVigne adds.  "I talked to one of the fire chiefs about this: can we send out text messages wight away, for instance, if a certain road is washed out, or a severe storm is coming?  These are things I'd love to be able to send to people right away.  Can we do a reverse 911 and send this information out?  You have to do it with the right coordination with agencies and only do it when necessary."

Since the Emergency Preparedness Committee presented a draft Emergency Preparedness Plan last year, no formal plan has yet been approved.  LaVigne says the Board will act on recommendations from the committee and Purcell as they come, but he hopes to have a complete plan in place in the coming year.

"This is not something that is simple to do because you have many facets of emergencies," he says.  "I think this is one of the most complicated ones, and I give them credit for hanging in.  When the committee makes recommendations we'll look at them.  That's one of my goals, to get that done sooner than later."

Purcell says the Town is better prepared than it was, and that progress continues to be made.

"I certainly do feel better prepared to deal with it if something happened today," he says.  "Within a couple of weeks we'll be fully set with this generator.  I think the Town is going in a good direction, and in three months or so I think, emergency preparedness-wise, we're going to be in tip-top shape.  I really do."

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