2005-09-08 / Front Page

When disaster strikes

Is Jamestown ready for a major crisis?
By Donna K. Drago

More than a week ago, Hurricane Katrina clobbered New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf Coast.

Before the storm hit, emergency management planners there called for a mandatory evacuation of all residents of the below-sea-level city of nearly half a million residents. Even so, for many different reasons, thousands did not get out.

If Jamestown’s emergency management director gave a similar order here, would everyone know what to do or where to go?

Acting Town Administrator Thomas Tighe is also the town’s current emergency management director as well as the chief of police. All three jobs will be vital in the event of an islandwide emergency.

Tighe said that he was appointed the EMD by former Town Administrator Mark Haddad after the resignation of the last EMD was tendered.

“It’s not unusual” to have both roles, Tighe said, noting that in Newport the fire chief is also its EMD.

In the event of an emergency, he would delegate key roles to both the acting police chief and the fire chief, Tighe said.

“I feel we’ll be able to get everything done” with his suggested appointees, he said.

In case of an emergency evacuation, Tighe said that the town would mobilize the Emergency Council, enact its emergency operation plan, and co-ordinate with the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency and the Red Cross to determine what actions to take.

Acting Police Chief William Donovan said that the most important things to remember in an emergency evacuation are — “don’t panic,” because the situation calls for being logical.

Donovan said, “Listen and look for direction from town officials,” which will come in the form of radio and television instructions, as well as from posters plastered all over town telling residents what they should do.

“Do things ahead of time,” Donovan said, noting that once there is information that a large storm is heading toward the island people should gas up their cars, buy basic supplies, and make plans for pets.

Time line

In the town’s emergency operations plan, the time line for reacting to an impending disaster is three to four days. As soon as it is determined that a storm will possibly impact New England, the Emergency Council meets for the first time. The Emergency Council is comprised of the superintendent of schools, the police chief, fire chief, public works director, recreation department director, emergency management director, and harbormaster.

At 48 hours from impact, the Emergency Council would meet again to determine the best course of action for the residents and businesses. At 24 hours out the council determines an evacuation plan and at between 16 and 12 hours from storm impact the Emergency Council would call in the necessary town employees, alert the media of a plan, and finalize evacuation and shelter decisions.

At 6 to 8 hours from imminent impact, an Emergency Operations Center would be opened at the police station, the shelter at the Lawn Avenue School would be opened, and a state-of-emergency declaration would be prepared.

Evacuation route

A dozen signs are posted around the island directing residents to the Jamestown Bridge, North Kingstown, and points west. They are located at Beavertail, on Southwest Avenue, North Main Road, East Shore Road, and Walcott and Narragansett avenues.

In the case of an evacuation, Jamestowners would be directed to the west, while people in Newport would be directed to the north. Consequently, Jamestowners and Newport residents will not be crossing paths with each other and the evacuation would proceed more quickly, Lt. Donovan said.

Chief Tighe said that once island residents are out of Jamestown, they should take further direction from the Red Cross.

Shelter

The Lawn Avenue School is the only Red Cross affiliated shelter on the island. Pets, alcohol, and firearms are not allowed at shelters.

Supplies to have on hand

Following are some guidelines from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA recommends keeping the following items on hand in case of a disaster:

• A three-day supply of nonperishable food for everyone in the family, and a three-day supply of water, measured out at one gallon per day per family member.

• A portable battery-powered radio or television, with extra batteries, a flashlight and extra batteries, a first-aid kit and basic first-aid manual.

• Matches in a waterproof container, a whistle, a change of clothing, kitchen accessories, including a manual can opener, copies of identification and credit card information, cash and coins.

The following items should be packed if necessary:

• Infant formula, diapers, bottles and pacifiers, and prescription medications, eye glasses, contact lens solution and cases, hearing aid batteries.

If the disaster is in the colder months, and there is no heat, pack blankets, jackets, and warm clothing. FEMA suggests that when packing a disaster kit, people avoid foods that will make them thirsty. Choose instead salt-free crackers, whole grain cereals, and canned foods with a high liquid content.

Once the disaster kit is packed, FEMA suggests that food items be stored in a dry place in tightly closed metal or plastic containers. Stored food and water should be used and replaced every six months. Keep items like clothing and bedding in airtight plastic bags and store in one or two large containers, like plastic garbage cans.

For pet owners

Since the local shelter does not take pets, FEMA recommends that everyone call hotels and motels in advance to see which ones would take animals if a family needed to stay away from home for a while. Bring pet supplies, proper identification and up-to-date veterinary records. Bring a pet carrier and leash.

Prepare the home

FEMAsuggests that waterlines and utilities be shut off in case of an impending disaster. Every family member should be able to locate the water shut-off valve, the main electrical breaker, and to know how to shut off the liquid natural gas supply to the house.

For more information

The Federal Emergency Management Agency Web site has a lot of information on basic preparedness for disasters. Go to www.fema.gov.

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