History tells us it’s not a matter of if a hurricane hits Martha’s Vineyard, but when the next big blow will come our way.
The photographs that accompanied Barry Stringfellow’s story on hurricane preparedness last week are visual reminders of that fact. His story featured images from the pummeling 26 years ago by Hurricane Bob — the Edgartown Wharf submerged by a swell — and photos from the damaging storm of 1938, before hurricanes were given names, that beached fishing vessels, toppled cottages, and uprooted trees.
So while the destruction of Hurricane Harvey may be thousands of miles away, the possibility of a significant storm here is real. September is historically the most productive for hurricanes, and the tropics appear to have gotten the memo. Hurricane Irma, a category 5, is the latest to pose a threat to the United States. Some computer models show it headed for Florida, while others have it taking a turn toward the north and threatening the Carolinas, which makes this one that everyone along the coastline of the Eastern U.S. should be keeping an eye on.
So that raises the question: If we got one here, would we be ready?
Not quite. What our story showed is that progress has been made toward a regional preparedness plan, but there is still work to do.
After what happened in February during a blizzard, when there was miscommunication over opening a shelter, we hope Island officials heed the comments of Edgartown health agent Matt Poole, who told The Times, “We have to do better. We’re on borrowed time.”
A Regional Emergency Planning Committee is meeting on a regular basis, and the finishing touches are being put on a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that would make the Oak Bluffs School the designated regional shelter. The MOU also calls for the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School to be pulled into the plan if the need for a shelter becomes greater than the 150 individuals that the elementary school can accommodate. It also spells out how costs would be shared so that the financial burden isn’t on just one town.
Officials are expected to finalize that MOU at a meeting Thursday, Sept. 7, and then look to boards of selectmen on the Island for their support.
But a good plan isn’t just about officials mapping it out and practicing it; the public needs to be involved as well. As the experience in Texas shows, it takes a collective effort to get vulnerable people out of harm’s way and into the safety of shelters.
Plans are in the works to hire an expert to formulate an “all hazards” plan for the Vineyard, and on Oct. 3, an official from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency will come to the Island to provide a training course in shelter management.
And, as our story indicated, there is already an effort underway to make sure that the Island’s fastest growing population, its senior citizens, are added to a hurricane list for alerts about storms. You can have your name added by calling the Oak Bluffs Council on Aging at 508-693-4509, ext. 2.
As with anything else, hurricane preparation is about being ready before the pressure is on. Stay tuned; we may need that preparation sooner than we think.