2008-07-31 / Front Page

Officials confident about hurricane preparedness

Emergency crews have solid procedures in place
By Eileen M. Daly

Although Rhode Island hasn't experienced a severe hurricane in many years, the string of deadly storms that wreaked havoc on Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida over the last several years beg the question: "Is Jamestown prepared for a severe hurricane?"

According to Town Administrator Bruce Keiser, the answer is a resounding yes. "We have a very well trained and organized Emergency Management Team. Our municipal personnel have attended numerous meetings, training sessions, and disaster response seminars, and we are very well prepared," Keiser said.

Police Chief Thomas Tighe serves as director of the Jamestown Emergency Management Team. He is assisted by Deputy Director Fred Pease. According to Chief Tighe, the process of activating the Emergency Management Team begins with the State Emergency Management Agency located in Cranston. When a hurricane warning is issued, the State Emergency Management Director contacts Tighe, who then activates the local team.

According to Tighe, the police station serves as central command with an additional command station set up at the fire station. After the hurricane warning is issued, a general meeting of all emergency personnel including, police, fire, emergency medical services, public works, town officials and shelter personnel is called by Tighe. During this meeting, each department receives directions as to how to proceed.

If the storm is considered a serious threat, police and fire department personnel will activate a mandatory evacuation process. According to Town Engineer Mike Gray, evacuations are based on the degree of threat the storm represents. "Drains are checked regularly to be sure they are kept clear, but realistically there is a point at which the drains will become overwhelmed by torrential rain," Gray said.

Gray, Chief Tighe, and Deputy Fire Chief Howard Tighe all expressed concern regarding the possibility of roads becoming overrun with water, especially in the low lying areas around the toll plaza, Mackerel Cove, and at Great Creek.

In order to prepare for this possibility, according to Howie Tighe, the island is divided into three separate areas: Beavertail, downtown and the north end of the island. Emergency equipment and resources are deployed to these three areas whenever a severe storm warning occurs in order to avoid the possibility that emergency personnel would be unable to reach residents. "Early warnings are well established and overall preparations are very solid," the deputy fire chief said.

Concerns regarding accessibility extend beyond the island itself. "In the event that the bridges to the mainland are impassable, the island must be able to sustain itself for at least seventy-two hours," Police Chief Tighe said.

The Emergency Management Team met with the National Guard last Friday and designated eight landing areas on the island where supplies could be brought in if necessary. According to the Town Administrator, the National Guard is conducting briefings with communities and streamlining communications in order to respond more quickly and effectively if the town requires assistance

Throughout the duration of a storm daily meetings of the Emergency Management Team are held and decisions regarding how to proceed are made. Melrose school serves as the primary shelter for the island while the Lawn Avenue School is utilized as an animal shelter. The upstairs portion of the fire station can also be used as a shelter if necessary. According to Deputy Fire Chief Tighe, residents with special needs and/or serious medical conditions should have an advanced emergency plan in place, including possibly establishing a safe haven off of the island. "Although temporary medical facilities are established at the shelter with volunteer physicians and nurses available, severe medical conditions are best handled off of the island during a severe storm," Howie Tighe said.

Residents can help emergency personnel by following safety precautions and by not walking around outside during a storm. The deputy fire chief recommends keeping a portable, battery-operated radio on hand in order to stay abreast of storm information in the event of a power outage.

An educational pamphlet regarding hurricane preparations for residents will be made available in August at the Town Hall, according to the police chief. Information and educational materials regarding hurricane preparation can also be obtained on the town website. During a severe storm the home page of the Web site, www. jamestownri.net, will contain a list of precautions and information for residents. Residents may also call the fire department at 423-0062 for further information.

The Jamestown Press Web site, www.JamestownPress.com, will aslo be updated with the latest news.

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