2017-09-14 / Front Page

Fire Chiefs Collaborate on Disaster Preparedness

By Lynne Tungett

Generator? Check. Vehicles fueled? Check. Sump pump working? Check. These are just a few of the myriad things on Newport Deputy Fire Chief Brian Dugan’s emergency readiness checklists.

“We’re thinking about how we’re going to get people out of here in [emergency] situations,” said Dugan in his office at the main fire station at Marlborough Street in an interview with Newport This Week. “We have to be prepared.”

In light of the devastation left by Hurricane Irma, Dugan and other area EMS personnel are reviewing protocols for emergency management, including evacuation routes, communication procedures, the gathering of supplies, and the set up of shelters in case of natural disasters.

On Monday, Sept. 11, Liz McDonald, senior director of emergency services for American Red Cross Rhode Island Chapter met in Middletown with all three community fire departments to examine islandwide safety and preparedness. The Red Cross helps set guidelines for community safety and response to emergency situations.

At the meeting, Dugan, who assumed the interim role in mid-July when former Chief Peter Connerton retired, joined Middletown Interim Fire Chief Rob McCall, who also moved into the slot in July; Middletown Capt. Peter Faerber; Portsmouth Fire Chief Mike Cranston, and Deputy Chief David Murphy, Newport Fire Department.

With two interim fire chiefs in the area, McDonald and the Red Cross wanted to know “how it would all unfold” in case of an emergency, Dugan said.

Generator capability and ADA compliance are key criteria for designating a building as a shelter. Red Cross shelters on the island are at Middletown’s Gaudet Middle School and Portsmouth Middle School. Although the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center is still listed on state websites, it is no longer compliant and Newport residents would utilize the Middletown school.

When asked about other possible Newport locations, Dugan cited the unsuitability of Rogers High School because it is on the edge of a flood zone and glass makes up too much of the building’s outer walls. At the Pell School, the wall of glass off the cafetorium also disqualifies it as a first response shelter. However, should shelter be needed over a prolonged period of time and there were only Newport residents at Gaudet, Pell would be staffed to accommodate Newporters.

Other Newport options are being explored as well, Dugan said, pointing out that the Florence Gray Center in the North End is of prime consideration. Discussions are underway with Joe Pratt, Executive Director of the Boys and Girls Clubs, which operate a number of programs in the facility.

“There are many factors that enter into a decision to name a facility an emergency shelter,” Pratt said, "we are speaking with the housing authority as well as the fire department to understand existing agreements and barriers. [The Florence Gray Center] could could be an excellent location because of the proximity to many residents who may have transportation issues, should an emergency arise.”

Staffing shelters is also a major consideration. According to the Red Cross, in order to open a shelter, only four people are needed, but 15 to 25 volunteers are required each day after a shelter opens. Carmella Geer, Executive Director of the Edward King House Senior Center, is working on plans to lead a volunteer recruiting effort.

Geer, part of Monday’s gathering via phone, is the regional Red Cross shelter manager and the emergency management volunteer coordinator for all three island communities, and has formed a group to streamline volunteer needs.

“We are recruiting folks who are interested in participating in Red Cross training to be held hopefully by the end of October, Geer said. “The four-hour training will be held locally. We really need to think about what happens if we can’t cross the bridges.”

Dugan noted that emergency shelters are different from the “warming and cooling” centers that provide personal care and an opportunity for folks to escape the cold or heat depending on the season, and are not necessarily for overnight stays. In Newport, Seamen’s Church Institute, Donovan Manor, Newport Public Library, and the Edward King House have propped open their doors as personal care centers but may change, depending on events they may be hosting.

In an effort to improve communications to residents, the city of Newport has added a new link to its homepage under both “Latest News” and “Frequently Visited Pages,” directing them to the emergency management page, which includes evacuation maps and instructions.

One available tool, Dugan pointed out, is located at hurrevac.com, short for Hurricane Evacuation. The site is funded in part by Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and offers emergency guides and tutorials, tracks hurricanes and can recommend evacuation timelines and scenarios based on previous hurricane tracking information.

For his part, Dugan is preparing for scenarios that he hopes don’t happen, but which require careful forethought and planning. “You always have to figure your worst case scenario,” he said. “What’s your continuity plan? What if I’m sitting behind my desk and something comes through the window and I’m wiped out? We have one of those plans … and it says who the next person [in charge] will be. You have to think about it,” he added. “People are dependent on us.”

This report is part of an ongoing NTW series on island preparedness.

To learn more visit the Aquidneck Island Emergency Volunteer alliance, aieva.org.

To receive emergency messages via text, email, or telephone look for the Code Red icon on cityofnewport.com and create an account.

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