Nor’easter Presents New Challenges for First Responders

By David Browne, J.D., program chair of Security Studies

With the recent wildfires in Colorado and across the country still fresh in our minds and in light of the latest destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy in the northeastern portion of the United States, we are ever more aware of the power and unpredictability of natural disasters. As our nation begins to heal and process this recent tragedy, our faculty leaders will offer their insights on disaster preparedness.

Nor'easter stormThe National Weather Service is warning of a Nor’easter, a significant costal storm expected to develop by midweek that has drawn the attention of law enforcement and homeland security professionals.  Forming along the Carolina coastline and gaining intensity as it moves north along the coast, this storm is expected to bring high winds, coastal flooding, and wet snow to New Jersey and New York.  From the standpoint of a first responder, this means that an already strained system is about to take another hit.

What is a Nor’easter?
For those unfamiliar with the term it may sound like a quaint New England saying.   Nothing could be further from the truth.  The National Weather Service defines a “Nor’easter” as a winter-weather storm that can produce heavy snow, strong winds, and huge waves.  The storms are unique to the east coast with winds blowing off the Atlantic from the northeasterly winds that blow ahead of the storm.

The efforts to save stranded citizens in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina were hampered by the amount of water and flooding.  Many citizens were forced to spend the night on higher floors, or even on the roofs of buildings in the flood zone.  The conditions were dangerous, but temperatures during that time were typical for August in Louisiana, hot and humid. The temperatures in New Orleans at that time meant that there was a reduced risk of casualties due to exposure.

Stretched to the Breaking Point
If a severe cold front in the form of a Nor’easter hits the coastal regions of New York and New Jersey, an already strained system could be stretched to the breaking point.  The temperatures in the area have been cold, but seasonal.  A sudden drop in temperature could put those who live in the affected area in further danger.  Hypothermia, when a body is no longer able to maintain a regular core temperature, is a major concern in cold weather.  Extended periods of time where the body remains below an ideal temperature can bring on symptoms of shivering, cold, and eventually a compromise in body function.  Many in the affected areas have been without power from the onset of the storm. They are already in need of electricity, heat and supplies to survive. A nasty, wet, winter storm is the last thing they need.

As this next storm approaches, first responders may face additional challenges.  Many individuals have been working around the clock; numerous stations have been compromised by flooding.  First responders will have to report to work despite hardships in obtaining fuel, and transportation.   Some will be forced to report to alternate stations putting a further strain on the system.  Many of them live in storm ravaged areas, and have families dealing with the same hardship and stress.

In preparation for the next storm there are a few potential challenges to consider:

  • The sick, elderly, and homeless will be hit hard by the continued bad weather, as will those who live alone and are in need of additional care.
  • As fuel becomes increasingly scarce, street crime involving the theft of fuel could increase if a shortage becomes more acute. 
  • The use of space heaters powered by generators will increase, presenting possible fire hazards.  House fires are more difficult to battle in cold weather.
  • Wet snow will create the possibility of fallen branches and as a result downed power lines. 

In the not too distant past, “Jack Frost”, a variant of “Old Man Winter,” had a far more sinister connotation as a heartless specter who took the lives of those who had no defense against the cold.  One hopes the term “Nor’easter” doesn’t take on the same connotation in the coming days.  

Image credit: Instagram/Radcliffe Roy/NewYorker

David Browne, J.D., spent over 14 years as a Special Agent in the FBI and most recently as a Crime Analyst at the University of Chicago for six years. He earned a J.D. law degree from Case Western Reserve University and a Bachelor of Psychology from the University of Michigan. He is currently program chair of Security Studies at Colorado Technical University. Connect with him on LinkedIn.