City, state alert systems give you head-start in being prepared

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I knew a tornado was going to hit northeast Queens 15 minutes before it happened.

That was 15 minutes I had to alert my family and make sure they stayed inside. Fifteen minutes to delay leaving my office for a meeting so I would not get caught out in the storm. Fifteen minutes to identify the neighborhoods in my district most likely to be affected by the tornado so we could begin to coordinate our response.

How did I know a tornado was bearing down on northeast Queens 15 minutes before it hit? Was it magic? A sixth sense? Did I hack into the National Weather Service’s computers?

None of the above. Actually, I got an email.

And a text message.

Right to my phone.

As a subscriber to both New York state’s and New York City’s emergency alert notification systems, called NY-Alert and Notify-NYC, respectively, I received e-mail and text message warnings that a tornado was tracking across Brooklyn and Queens beginning a full 15 minutes before the tornado actually hit us. In fact, I was even alerted to the exact neighborhoods with the highest probability of getting hit. The prediction turned out to be remarkably accurate.

As we all know, the devastation in these neighborhoods was terrible. While walking through my district to assist homeowners and businesses affected by the tornado, we saw huge, decades-old trees uprooted and collapsed along power lines and onto homes and cars. Sidewalks and streets were blocked, streetlights were bent over and traffic lights were thrown to the ground, sometimes still blinking.

Early warning of natural or other disasters is critical. The sooner you know, the more time you have to prepare and take whatever steps are necessary to protect yourself and your family. Many of us have coordinated disaster plans within our families so we know exactly what to do if an emergency strikes and have gathered “go bags” at home, ready to grab at a moment’s notice, with water, copies of medical prescriptions, identification documents and other essentials tucked inside.

But if you only learn of the emergency the moment it is upon you, well, that is probably too late. For example, during a tornado or hurricane, you should take shelter on lower floors and stay away from windows. Video-taping the tornado from your window is a bad idea. But you need to take these steps before the tornado or hurricane is over your head for them to be effective.

And the best place to get such an advance warning is through the NY-Alert and Notify-NYC systems. By the way, you can also receive other important information through these systems, if you choose, including notifications related to traffic, school closings and sex offender registrations in your neighborhood.

Rory Lancman

State Assemblyman

Fresh Meadows

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