Although it appears Hurricane Earl will likely buffet the Connecticut shoreline with only heavy rain and surging surf on Friday, officials in area towns are keeping a close eye on the storm and preparing for the worst-case scenario.

But emergency preparedness, they say, is nothing new.

Westport Fire Chief Chris Ackley said the town gets ready for hurricane season every year, regardless of forecasts. "We are not scurrying around; we are ahead of the curve."

"We're always ready," agreed Fairfield Fire Chief Richard Felner. "We check our equipment every day. It's not something we start doing; it is something we do on a daily basis."

As of Tuesday, Hurricane Earl was a category four hurricane expected to tear through the Caribbean, and hit somewhere along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm's sustainable winds were clocked at about 135 mph. Current models from the National Weather Service show Earl passing to the east of Long Island and Cape Cod on Friday. Rain is expected overnight as the storm passes across the region.

However, the Connecticut coast, including Fairfield and Westport, remain in the potential path of the storm and a direct hit is still a possibility. A major hurricane has not hit Fairfield County since Hurricane Gloria in 1985.

"I'll be watching every weather report I can," said Fairfield Deputy Fire Chief Arthur Reid, who is in charge of the town's Citizen Emergency Response Team (CERT). "We get a number of updates from the state every day and I'll be monitoring the storm closely."

The Connecticut Chapter of the American Red Cross is also preparing for the storm. CEO Dianne Auger said the agency is in contact with volunteers, has been reviewing shelter locations and gathering supplies.

The Red Cross is always ready for a storm or other kind of disaster to hit, Auger said. "We don't leave our assessments to the last minute; we identify potential shelter locations on an ongoing basis," she said.

Since it is not certain what Earl will do in coming days, the Red Cross is encouraging people to be ready for anything.

"We don't know exactly what this storm has in store for us, but everyone can take simple steps to lessen the risk and impact for themselves and their families," Auger said. The Red Cross instructs people to have an emergency kit ready, make a plan and be informed.

Fairfield and Westport municipal department heads, from the emergency responders to the Boards of Education and Departments of Public Works, are all ramping up in case the storm hits harder than expected.

Evacuation plans for local beach residents are in place, shelters can be set up at a moment's notice, according to officials, and volunteers have been put on call.

Both Fairfield and Westport utilize Reverse 911 systems capable of notifying the public in case of emergencies, and officials encourage residents to listen to any instructions transmitted via those networks.

"The problem with this storm is the uncertainty," said Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff. With the brunt of the storm expected to hit during the night hours, people should be ready in advance and not wait until the last minute, he said.

"We can't risk the lives of our emergency workers in high winds in the dark of night to evacuate those who had a chance well in advance to leave," said Joseloff.

He is recommending that people have two weeks of food and water on hand in case the storm wreaks havoc in the region.

"We preach personal preparedness," said Ackley. "Have at least three days worth of water, non-perishable food, flashlights, a radio and any necessary medication available." If power is knocked out, Ackley said "be patient and be prepared." Reid said it is important to have a "go-kit" available, including important documents and necessities in case of evacuation.

Most importantly, Ackley and Reid advised residents to heed warnings and pay attention.

"We will get notices out to local television and radio," Reid said. "Take this storm very seriously. A direct hit could be quite devastating to the area. We don't think that is going to happen, but we need to be ready."

As forecasts continue to be updated, Fairfield and Westport hope for the best.

"Hopefully the storm will veer off to the Northeast," said Joseloff. But, he added, people then may feel that officials were crying wolf -- for no reason. "We are overdue, it could be this storm or the next one or the one after that." Bottom line, Joseloff said, "We need to be prepared."

In Westport, for general emergency management information, residents can call 203-341-5000. If evacuation is necessary or to get details about a possible evacuation, call 203-454-6199.