The bruising northeast storm a week ago was no hurricane. We had the hurricane the week before. Neither blow was calamitous, not a Carol or a Bob. But each was troublesome, and each was a test for the Island’s coordinated emergency management leadership. In each case, the coordination was faulty, and the marks earned were generally Cs.
A bright spot was the Code Red alert system, a countywide effort that is a promising vehicle for getting important information to Islanders. But, it’s only a vehicle and one that requires the folks who need to get emergency messages to be in a position to receive phone calls. Often, people are not available to answer the phone. In fact, a broader messaging effort is required.
Even more important, Code Red and the entire emergency information management effort in Dukes County must be driven more thoughtfully and cooperatively to be as useful as it needs to be. Mediocre marks are unacceptable.
At the heart of the problem is the lack of a smoothly coordinated, centralized emergency management authority that can receive important information and direct it Island-wide or to areas that need it. We do not have in mind emergency responders. As usual, they are on top of their games.
It is the information that they need to have disseminated to the Island public — that this road is closed, that this shelter has opened, that the tree that fell over that road has been cleared away, that there is a live wire down across a road near you.
Here are a couple of examples from last week that are telling. The Times receives telephone messages, texts, and emails from emergency personnel, and we hurry to post them on mvtimes.com, to keep Islanders in the know about problems and dangers. We also get communications from civilians who tell us about problems. Last week we got several messages from Islanders telling us that the Lagoon Pond Drawbridge had been closed. The bridge was closed because the road leading to the bridge on each side was closed. These folks had learned of the closing by driving to the bridge and learning when they got there that their way was blocked. No signs well in advance of the bridge to detour them to the alternate route to the hospital or to Vineyard Haven. No message to The Times for posting on the web either.
During part of last week’s storm, Beach Road between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown was closed. In this case, we got a message about the closing, but after a while the road was reopened. The only message we got about the reopening was, “I’ve heard that the Beach Road has been reopened.” Is that information, speculation, or hearsay?
The Steamship Authority is nimble and customer-friendly. Management, on the boatline’s web site and in notices sent to mvtimes.com, got the word out early about service cancellations, in messages to The Times for posting and on the boatline’s own website. Just as impressive, boatline management, using weather information from all sources, made careful judgments about the impact of the storms and shifting their vessels to locations that were not only protected but handy to the resumption of service.
The inability of town leaders and county government to agree upon and implement a common approach to storm information management, despite the host of information systems at their disposal, is simply dereliction. Information as important as that associated with storms such as the two we’ve recently experienced — and like those we will surely endure in the winter ahead — must be timely and of uniform quality and clarity across the Island, and town and county leaders need to see to it that it is.