2009-07-02 / News

‘Proactive’ is key word in hurricane preparedness

By Erin Tiernan

For many New Englanders, news of an impending hurricane is often met with a bit of skepticism and a few wry remarks about stocking up on bread and milk. But historically, Rhode Island—and Jamestown, in particular—have suffered major losses of life and property when hurricanes have caught residents unprepared.

Hurricane season on the Atlantic coast runs from June 1 through Nov. 30, with the bulk of the action and the most devastating storms usually occurring between August and mid-October.

The Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency is projecting an average storm season—meaning one to three major hurricanes, or storms with sustained winds of more than 74 mph are expected to hit the Rhode Island coastline in 2009. This could mean flooding and damage to homes and boats if those in at-risk areas fail to prepare.

Jamestown Emergency Management Director Chief Thomas Tighe said there is really no way to evaluate the potential cost of storm damages to Jamestown. But according to a recent Providence Journal story, a storm similar to the hurricane of 1938 would likely bring damages that could exceed $3.8 billion--and strain hospitals and other emergency services for weeks.

Minimizing losses

When it comes to minimizing potential hurricane-related losses and damage, a proactive approach is recommended by local emergency management officials. Emergency evacuation routes, shelters and other local resources will do little good to help residents if they do not take time to familiarize themselves with their options and take necessary steps to protect themselves, their families and their assets.

Tighe said local emergency services, such as the fire and police departments, meet routinely to discuss and coordinate crisis response plans with the recreation and public works departments. Since the town’s emergency plan was established four years ago, these agencies have also simulated several shelter exercises to prepare for possible disaster scenarios.

“Overall, I would say we are well prepared to deal with [hurricanes],” Tighe said, adding that hurricane warnings are typically issued with plenty of time to notify and evacuate residents.

Contrary to popular opinion, bread and milk will not sustain a family in the event of a serious hurricane that causes loss of power or flooding, or otherwise prevents residents from traveling for more than a few days.

While there is no need for residents to panic, it is important to be realistic. A little preparation could end up saving a lot of headaches, or even lives, if a severe category four or five hurricane hits this year. RIEMA recommends assembling a disaster supply kit to be kept in the home, car and/ or office. Uncertainty is the main reason people fail to prepare for disasters. But, rather than simply reacting to hurricane damages after the fact, residents should anticipate and plan for an emergency, making sure they have easy access to all of the necessary supplies.

Tighe said all residents should stock up on enough resources to last at least three days, in case of flooding or power loss. Water, any necessary medications and highenergy nonperishable food items are the basics, but he also said not to forget to keep extra batteries, flashlights and a portable radio on hand, too.

Adequate first aid supplies, hygiene items, extra clothes and copies of important documents should also be stored somewhere safe. All of this can be prepared ahead of time to protect a family should any kind of disaster, natural or otherwise, hit home.

Take action quickly

If hurricane warnings are severe enough to require evacuation, it is important not to delay action, Tighe said, particularly since Jamestown is an island community. Flood risks are generally minimal on the island because the slope off the coastline is rocky and steep. However, coastal lowlands, especially those around East Ferry, Mackerel Cove, the Great (Zeek’s) Creek and—in severe storms—the areas around the toll plaza, are all at a higher risk of flooding.

It is vital to be aware of the island’s emergency evacuation routes, marked by round blue signs. These routes lead to either of the two bridges, and Tighe advised residents to track the path of a hurricane before deciding in which direction to head. It is also important to leave as soon as possible to avoid traffic, he said.

The island’s shelter, the Melrose Elementary School, is outfi tted with a new generator and ample space to temporarily house Jamestowners who need to evacuate hazard areas, but RIEMA warns that shelters should be used as a last resort because they do not typically accommodate pets and often do not have adequate supplies of food and water.

“Normally, we get enough of a warning with today’s forecasting and weather. We know when it’s going to come up the coast and then you start preparing,” Tighe said, adding that residents need to heed warnings and take precautions if they want to protect themselves and their property.

The next time the meteorologist forecasts a hurricane, residents should not ignore it or underestimate its veracity because storms can sometimes be unpredictable. Instead, residents should evaluate the situation logically and plan accordingly. Gas tanks should be kept full in case evacuation is required, storm shutters should be latched and windows should be boarded with marine plywood. Cash and travelers checks should be kept on hand, and boat owners should take steps to ensure that boats are protected against currents, storm surges and high winds, Tighe said.

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