City of Pittsburgh trying to operate normally, mayor says

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The City of Pittsburgh will operate as normally as possible as Hurricane Sandy approaches, but is prepared to put "all hands on deck" if emergencies arise, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said at a briefing this afternoon.

Refuse collection will continue as scheduled, and the city's 311 center, which takes non-emergency complaints, will operate normal hours for the time being, Mr. Ravenstahl said. The city will update residents using social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

The city this morning put three swiftwater rescue teams on standby and this afternoon will put a skeleton crew at its emergency operations center in Point Breeze, Mr. Ravenstahl and Public Safety Director Michael Huss said.

Employees have been told that they could be called in a moment's notice to help the city respond to a crisis, Mr. Ravenstahl said.

"I'm very comfortable with our position right now," Mr. Huss said.

The city could experience flash floods and power outages from high winds, Mr. Ravenstahl and Mr. Huss said, urging residents to avoid standing water and downed trees. Firefighters will be available to help forestry crews remove downed trees.

Mr. Ravenstahl said the city may open emergency shelters to serve those who lose power, but said locations won't be announced until officials learn the location and extent of any outages.

Mr. Ravenstahl said he did not intend to send city employees home early.

The city is making use of social media, among other resources, to inform residents should emergency procedures be necessary.

"We have a little over 10,000 Facebook fans, and a little more than 5,000 fans on Twitter," said Joanna Doven, spokeswoman for the mayor's office.

"We'll update our communication plans if the need arises, not only through social media, but through our web site." The mayor's page can be found at http://pittsburghpa.gov/mayor/.

As Sandy churns up the east coast, the Pittsburgh area is expected to receive between 2 and 4 inches of rain through Tuesday night.

"If that increases to 6-to-8, we could expect flash flooding," Ms. Doven said. "If power goes out because of high winds, we can deploy firefighters to knock on doors."

The City of Pittsburgh has targeted streets in the areas most likely to experience flooding, she said, and the swift-water rescue team -- established after four people died in a 2011 flash flood on Washington Boulevard -- "has some of the best training in the nation."

Dealing with blizzards in the past was a challenge, she said, but Sandy will different: "A blizzard affects everyone, but when you have high winds and flooding, it typically affects only parts of the city. We'll be better able to contain the damage and respond."

The City's Facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/city.of.pittsburgh.

And, for Twitter updates follow @citypgh .

neigh_city - breaking

Maria Sciullo: msciullo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1478. Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548. First Published October 29, 2012 12:00 AM


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