By Tom McDermott and Robin Jovanovich
As yet another major winter storm bore down on Rye this week, closely following winter’s second bombe cyclone, the paper checked in with some of those whose job it is to get the City and its residents safely through the cold, wet, windy messes.
On Wednesday afternoon, “mid-storm”, with schools closed and most businesses shuttered, we asked Mayor Josh Cohn how the situation stood. Noting that DPW “had worked around the clock clearing downed trees in advance of Con Ed’s arrival and then continued to work with Con Ed,” after the first storm, and commending police and fire personnel for being “extremely responsive and reliable,” and Rye City Schools officials, particularly Superintendent Dr. Byrne, for their cooperation, he added, “I hope we can all do as well with this second storm.”
As of Wednesday night, after high winds felled more trees and power lines, close to a third of Rye homes were without power, according to City Manager Marcus Serrano.
While the Mayor has been messaging residents daily — and a great part of every day — through the City’s Listserv and on City email, he said he’s “learned that the City should use more outlets to improve communication with residents.” His emergency messages — if you have power — are now on the City website and RyeTV. “We will do more with other media,” he stated.
Asked to assess the City’s communications during the storm, City Manager Marcus Serrano stated that about 2,000 residents are currently signed up for emergency notifications from the City. Both he and Mayor Cohn kept those residents informed and prepared. Code Red alerts from the Rye Police Department to subscribers were numerous. Both Serrano and Public Safety Commissioner Michael Corcoran cautioned that many residents find alerts to be annoying, which limits expansion of the service.
Commissioner Corcoran said that in his 28-year career, he is still amazed at how police, firefighters, and other City workers rise to the occasion when events threaten residents are threatened by weather, floods, and the loss of power and mobility. He was pleased that there was sufficient staff and that City departments coordinated well.
Corcoran was far less pleased with Con Ed. “Their response fell way too short and they started their preparations far too late. Surrounding communities were also very dismayed at Con Ed’s performance.” The commissioner believes there will be an after-action review to see how the City might improve its preparations and reactions to storms, flooding, and loss of power.
According to Mayor Cohn, the City receives information from a Con Ed website but “we do not consider the numbers reliable. The numbers, furthermore, speak in terms of ‘customers’ — each customer being an account, which can be a whole development full of people, such as Rye Colony, a single family, or something else.” He “guesstimates” at least three people for each account, “just to try to weight Con Ed’s sterile calculation with real lives.”
As of Wednesday morning, Con Ed told City officials that 656 Rye customers were out. With close to 6,800 households in Rye, that number seemed lower than actual.
At 11 p.m. Wednesday night, Mayor Cohn told the paper, “In the immediate aftermath of storm 2, one-third of Rye was without power. A quick repair by Con Ed halved that number. We still have thousands of people without power and have been substantially set back in our recovery. City workers have been out throughout the storm and are continuing to do all the City can to put restoration back on track. We will try to motivate Con Ed to work with us.”
Surprisingly, the warming centers set up by the City, where residents could recharge their electronic devices as well as themselves with hot beverages have received little use. Rye Recreation and the Rye Free Reading Room stayed open late to give people a place to go before heading back to dark, unheated homes.
According to Sally Rogol, Rye Rec Superintendent, only about a dozen people took advantage of the warming center. “Most stayed for 45 minutes to read and charge their devices,” she reported. Asked if seniors were most affected, Rogol said that the few she heard from stayed with friends or family.
Soon after talking to us, they all returned to dealing with the storm. With luck, it will be this relentless winter’s last gasp and their chance to get a good night’s sleep.