2017-09-07 / Opinion


How Prepared Are We?

Anyone watching the news over the past week or so cannot have missed the tragic news of flooding in Houston or the impending hurricane Irma rated a Category 5 with the most powerful winds and eye likely to hit Florida somewhere in the next few days.

Islanders here in 1991 will remember Hurricane Bob and the damaging blow it dealt. We were lucky to experience just a brush with Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Is it possible we have become complacent regarding how devastating these storms can be?

A Red Cross office was located on the island in Middletown for many years, but has since been closed. Don’t rely on the Internet search that says it’s at 1015 Aquidneck Avenue or the phone number listed.

So the question stands, “How prepared are we?”

Nearly 20 years ago, I was trained as a Red Cross shelter volunteer at the office in Middletown. Much of the on-site training was held at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center. However, because of national rating requirements, mostly for generators, the designation for MLK as an emergency shelter has been discontinued. The last two times the emergency shelters were opened, I reported to Middletown’s Gaudet Middle School.

In 2014, the Newport School Committee unanimously approved the official American Red Cross Shelter Agreement, which allows the Red Cross to use Pell as a temporary emergency shelter during a disaster.

However, according to a discussion with interim fire department chief Brian Dugan, if there was a call for evacuation, Newport residents would still report to the Gaudet emergency shelter. A shelter will also be set up at the Portsmouth Middle School.

In 2014, the first Aquidneck Island Emergency Preparedness Expo was held, at the Edward King House. The Red Cross, National Grid, the Potter League, Rhode Island Department of Health, Newport Radio Club and the National Weather Service were there to provide information, along with representatives from Newport, Middletown and Portsmouth Emergency Management. Perhaps it’s time for another expo of this sort?

When scouring the City of Newport website looking for more information on emergency shelters and evacuation routes, my searches kept leading me to a 177-page PDF document, dated September 2008, called the “City of Newport Hazard Mitigation Strategy.”

If you have the time to read through that whole document drop us a line and let us know what you think.

But there is good news with the availability of social media. The Newport Police Department posted links on Facebook and on Nextdoor.com on Wednesday, Sept. 6, where people can sign up for Code Red, a mobile app notification on the City of Newport's website, cityofnewport.com. Look for the Code Red icon near the top. Create an account and you will be issued emergency messages via text, email, or telephone message.

Besides preparing your own family and belongings in case of emergency, I suggest that if you have the time, consider Red Cross training, so the next time we need to open our island shelters, we are really prepared.

My experience as a Red Cross shelter volunteer was very rewarding… handing an extra blanket to an older woman who was by herself, having been transported to Gaudet by the Newport Fire Department, helping mothers with young children get settled in, or talking to the radio operator late into the night, while he monitored the incoming notices.

So the question is not only how prepared are we, but also, how prepared are you? And are you prepared to help others?

– Lynne Tungett

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