ORLEANS – Hurricane season has arrived, and with it concerns about readiness to ride out high winds, flooding, and extended power outages. To make sure townspeople can make informed decisions on how to respond when big storms threaten, the senior center is hosting an Emergency Preparedness Forum July 10 at 2 p.m.
Last week, the event's planners – including representatives of the senior center and police, fire, health, and water departments, along with members of the county's AmeriCorps program – got together to talk about the forum and what people need to know before the elements come calling.
“The storms of last spring had a profound effect on our seniors,” senior center program coordinator Karen Spangler said. “They were stuck in their apartments and homes. We had flooding. We realized there were a lot of needs unmet and that communication was lacking a little bit.”
Spangler, senior center outreach coordinator Maryanne Ryan and outreach worker Sue Beyle met with Deputy Fire Chief Geoff Deering, then reached out to the Barnstable County Emergency Management Group. The county assigned AmeriCorps members Conor Terry and Cynthia Slemmer to compile what became an emergency preparedness handbook for Orleans seniors.
Those who attend the July 10 forum will receive a copy of the handbook and also learn how to put together a disaster supply kit. Police Lt. Kevin Higgins will handle the show-and-tell.
“We're all working in circles that overlap,” Higgins said. “The fire and police are similar in their concern that everyone be safe. Our concern deviates a little in that we want to make sure everyone is safe at home or in a warm center or shelter. We want to try to keep people from traveling. The kit will hold you over for a couple of days until the streets get cleared.”
Among the kit's items, which can be stored in a five-gallon bucket, are a gallon of water per person per day, non-perishable food, contact information and copies of documents, a blanket, and something as simple as toilet paper.
The July 10 forum will include remarks by representatives of several town departments that they hope will lead into a dialog with attendees. At last week's session, there was discussion of the challenges a storm brings.
“We get a lot of calls about food storage” when the power goes out, said health agent Bob Canning, “both from residences and commercial establishments.” Another concern is septic systems that rely on electricity.
Although people “pretty much assume we'll have water” in a storm, water department Superintendent Todd Bunzick advised caution. “If we get a hurricane coming up the coast and we get whacked, that's when I'm concerned,” he said. “If there's a water main blowout at an embankment on an estuary, we'll bleed (water) if we can't get out there to fix it.” Assistant Superintendent Susan Brown said storm surges might prompt the department to shut down parts of town because “you don't want to bleed to death.” When a big coastal storm threatens, Bunzick said, the department can isolate its larger water towers and store up to two million gallons to keep things flowing.
Deering said the fire department gets many calls about wires being down, how long the power will be out, and if it's safe to use generators. Recognizing the varied health care needs of residents, he said people should plan what to do for a family member who requires daily assistance. “The home health aide may not be able to get to them,” he said.
“Sometimes people just need a prompt,” Beyle said. “Some folks who are not as infirm as others could call their families off-Cape and bunk in with them.” She said respite sites can help.
Many people are conflicted about when to leave their homes for a shelter. “If it's cold and the temperature is dropping and you have no idea when the power will be back, make a call to the police department about where there's a warming shelter and if the roads are passable to get there,” Higgins said.
“I don't think there's a magic number,” Canning said of a temperature that would trigger departure for a shelter. “See how many layers you put on. There will come a point where individuals will realize they're getting too cold. You'd rather be safe than sorry.”
Planning is crucial, he said. “If you've planned ahead, you can shelter in place. If that thermostat gets below 50, (you can say) we're out of here. Or individuals can plan ahead and contact friends and family, or the neighbor down the street with a generator. When the storm is here, we don't have the answers because it's out of our control. Plan ahead and know what you're doing ahead of time. Know where the shelters are, where the warming stations are, where your family can come and get you ahead of time.”
Pre-registration (508-255-6333) is requested for the July 10 Emergency Preparedness Forum at the Orleans Senior Center on Rock Harbor Road at 2 p.m. Transportation is available for Orleans residents, and light refreshments will be served.