by AmyJo Brown
While Pittsburgh city operations are continuing as normal — including, for now, scheduled trash pickups — emergency personnel are preparing to respond to days of high winds, flash flooding and power outages, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said today at an afternoon conference with the city's press.
The conference was held as Hurricane Sandy continues to make its way toward shore and as cities all along the eastern United States coast and in the path of its effects brace for its worst.
A high wind warning is in effect for Pittsburgh, according to the National Weather Service. It is predicting winds from the northwest at 25 to 35 mph, with gusts up to 60 mph. Winds are expected to slow starting Tuesday morning.
For now, in Pittsburgh, Ravenstahl said, three mobile swift water rescue teams were on the job as of this morning, and an emergency operations center will be activated with minimum staffing starting at 3 p.m. today. Department heads and those operating other city services, such as the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, are preparing 24-hour shift schedules and notifying employees that they may need to be on call.
"We plan to be nimble and ready to adjust our response," he said.
Shelter locations, if they are needed, will be determined on a case-by-case basis, depending on where power outages occur, if they occur, he said.
The city's Halloween Trick-or-Treat night has been rescheduled from Wednesday evening to 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 3.
Otherwise, "we're planning to conduct business as usual," he said. "We're not changing our daily routine."
The city's 311 call center, which is open from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. will continue to take and act on calls, he said.
"As the storm gets closer, if we need to extend the hours of 311, we will do that," he said.
Public Safety Director Michael Huss said he is confident in the city's preparedness if and when the storm hits hard.
"I'm very comfortable with our position right now," he said, pointing in particular to the swift water response teams, which were added after the 2011 deaths of four people in a flash flood on Washington Boulevard.
He said 1,600 public safety employees have received basic water rescue training and 1,000 water safety devices have been spread out throughout the city. Precautions are being taken on Washington Boulevard, although he noted that so far this year, flooding has been more of an issue in the South Hills.
"It's been a major undertaking. We're not finished, we've not completed our training," he said. "But we are a lot better off than a year ago."
The Post-Gazette has all the numbers you may need if you find yourself out of power or in trouble on the road. Find them here: http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/news/weather/guide-to-emergency-resources-in-pennsylvania-659716/