Saratoga Springs continues to prepare for the remnants of Hurricane Sandy to hit the region, but with less a sense of urgency than many other jurisdictions. While the state has already declared an emergency because of the storm, city officials are holding off making a similar declaration until they have a better idea of just what the city will be dealing with.
Weather forecasters say the city will most likely experience winds of 30-40 miles an hour and relatively little rain – perhaps one to two inches through tomorrow. But Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen says that type of storm can still create problems. “It’s most important that people understand this is a serious storm with high winds that can bring down trees,” he says. “People should seek shelter if the weather gets worse, and stay off the roads.”
While some offices closed early, city services are still being offered. In a news release, Mayor Scott Johnson said that “We want all Saratogians to rest assured that every reasonable and available plan is in place to fully react, if needed, as Hurricane Sandy hits our area.”
Mathiesen says city planning so far has involved three steps. First, city workers have made sure all emergency equipment such as generators are in working order and ready to go if needed. Second, while the police and fire departments are at normal staffing levels, off-duty personnel are prepared to be called in if needed. And third, officials are watching reports closely to see if conditions change for the worse.
Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco says street crews were working extra hours on Monday trying to pick up leaves lining the city’s streets. The concern, he says, is the rain. “If things get clogged by leaves, we could see some flooding.” But a bigger concern, he says, is trees. “High winds could bring down trees in critical areas and block roadways,” he says. And trees could take out power lines as well. Scirocco says city crews are on standby in case they are needed to clear roads.
The city schools are also holding off on making a decision about closings for now. Assistant Superintendent Douglas Silvernell says they canceled all after-school activities and moved the three after-school programs to the YMCA on Monday, but they’re watching the weather and looking at power issues before making a decision on whether to close schools for Tuesday. Silvernell says parents should monitor a local news source for more information on any possible closings.
The Saratoga County Arts Council, meanwhile, has announced it will be closed in the morning. And the Saratoga County Senior Meals program will also be closed.
City Water Supply is Safe
Despite the possibility of power outages in the city, Saratoga residents won’t be going without water, at least for the time being.
The city’s water treatment facility doesn’t have an emergency generator, so if power is lost the plant won’t be able to treat any more water. But the city has a storage tank known as the Woodlawn Reservoir, which is located near Skidmore, and it can hold as much as five million gallons of treated water. Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco says they’ve made sure the tank is close to overflowing, so there will be as much water available as possible if power does go out to the treatment facility. And the reservoir is fed by gravity, so even without power most city residents will have access to water.
Tom Kirkpatrick has managed the treatment facility for years. He says that in recent weeks the city has been consuming about 2.2 million gallons of water a day. That’s actually much lower than its normal rate of consumption at this time of year, but he says that’s a good thing right now. “With the pumping rate as low as it is, we’re good for a few days.” With no other water source, the reservoir should be able to handle more than two days of water use by residents.
But in addition to the 5 million gallons in the reservoir, Kirkpatrick points out that the well fields out at Geyser Crest do have a backup generator, and that site can pump upwards of 1.8 million gallons a day. So Kirkpatrick says when it comes to water, the city is in good shape. “When these things happen people tend not to use as much water. We could probably not have to worry for about five days.”
Saratoga Hospital Expects Business as Usual
The “Incident Command Center” at Saratoga Hospital was activated Monday, indicating that it is gearing up to respond to a higher-than-usual incidence of emergencies.
Staff at the hospital do not think that Hurricane Sandy will directly affect the hospital any more than Hurricane Irene did. If Saratoga Springs suffers power outages, the hospital has alternate electrical lines in addition to on-site generators, as required by New York State. “There is absolutely no way that the hospital will be out of power” says Public Information Officer Ellen Kerness.
However, it has no plans to operate as an emergency refuge for people who may have to evacuate their homes.
“The hospital is not a place to seek shelter” says Kerness. “There are other places within the community that would be appropriate. The hospital is not one of those places. we don’t have the facilities for folks other than our patients.”
Patients should be well taken care of, however. In anticipation of the storm, all departments have been stocking up their medical and food supplies, says Kerness. “We have food, we have water, we have staff, we have medicine. We have everything we need here.”
Senior Center Provides Sanctuary
The Senior Citizens Center of Saratoga Springs on 5 Williams Street will remain open every day this week between 8am and 4pm to provide a sanctuary from Hurricane Sandy.
While the center normally only welcomes members, it is opening its doors for non-members during the storm.
The building is equipped with a generator, so in case of a power outage visitors will be able to watch TV and get updates on the progress of the storm.
Patrice Mastrianni, Director of Marketing and Outreach, estimates that the facility can hold up to 150-200 people.
When asked if the Senior Center might remain open after normal business hours as a shelter for people who need a place to stay at night, Mastiranni said “The building is owned by the city. We pretty much follow their lead. If something is requested of us, we’ll do it. We’re going to have to see what happens, how many people are without power.”
Reporters Laura Rappaport and Hannah Sherman contributed to this report
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