What lessons learned from Ice Storm 2013 in St. Lawrence County?
Wednesday, January 1, 2014 - 4:56 pm

By JIMMY LAWTON

Ice Storm 2013 is in the past, but lessons learned from the event will help St. Lawrence County in the future.

St. Lawrence County interim Emergency Services Director Keith Zimmerman said the storm was far less devastating than Ice Storm 1998, but was still a significant weather event. He said this storm was predicted sooner and ended faster than its predecessor.

"This storm had a fair amount of warning to it. We'd been talking about for week or two before it got here. I think we also learned a lot of lessons collectively about how to deal with an ice emergency and ice events," he said. "People demonstrated a lot of common sense."

Zimmerman said the iPads purchased for the emergency services department through a grant were an invaluable tool. He said they were used for communications with the National Weather Service, emergency coordinators from surrounding counties and for sending updates to media outlets.

"We were getting weather updates on an 8 hour basis and that was helpful. We had a good idea of where we needed to be in the county before the storm hit," he said.

Zimmerman said watching the freeze line move helped the county move assets to areas that were going to be impacted most.

"It was truly valuable technology," he said.

"It was very helpful hearing about what other emergency managers were doing. We were working with some experienced people and it was good to see how they were managing the storm."

Zimmerman said there were some important lessons learned from the storm. On one occasion a generator was deployed to a senior citizen home, but the building was not equipped for three-phase power, so it couldn't be used. He said he would like to see an inventory created, so that the county can have the equipment it needs sent to the right places.

He said the department also realized how valuable social networks like Twitter and Facebook could be for communicating with the public. He said a Jefferson County Emergency Services page had 56,000 unique hits during the storm. He said getting information out to people on that scale is very useful.

"It's something we are aware of and I think we will be doing more with," he said.

Zimmerman credited National Grid workers, law enforcement agencies, fire departments and emergency responders for their work.

There are a lot of really talented people that came in and helped us without making a mess of the whole think," he said.

Zimmerman said the residents also deserved credit. He said people in the North Country don't typical panic until things get really bad. He said roads were kept clear and that allowed workers to get things back to normal.

"All in all, I'd say we were very fortunate," he said.

Zimmerman said his department will be reviewing the report to identify ways to improve response in the future.

Keith Zimmerman also serves as the St. Lawrence County Planner and is the interim IT department head.