Once more, leadership fails emergency information management test


The Code Red alert system, a county-wide venture on Martha’s Vineyard, is a promising vehicle for getting important information to Islanders. But, it’s only a vehicle.

Code Red, and the entire emergency information management effort in Dukes County, must be driven thoughtfully and cooperatively by town and county leaders to be as useful as it promises to be. So far, the county and the emergency management leadership in the six towns get a D for their use of the Code Red alert system and the rest of the public information apparatus at their disposal.

There are exceptions. Edgartown officials were prepared to get information out. Police Chief Tony Bettencourt and information technology wiz Adam Darack used the Code Red system carefully and timely to keep Edgartonians up to date on changing conditions on the roads, the beaches, with the town sewer system and lots more. But, that’s not all. Mr. Darack updated the town website with all the same information and forwarded all the alerts to mvtimes.com for posting on the newspaper website.

The Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) continued a prudent schedule of buses on the most important routes, so that people who needed to get from here to there in appalling and sometimes dangerous conditions, could do so safely. The VTA effort was well-organized and implemented.

The Steamship Authority was nimble and customer-friendly. Management, on the boatline’s web site and in notices sent to mvtimes.com, got the word out early that service was likely to be cancelled on Sunday, when Irene was expected to do her worst. Then, the line added trips on Friday and Saturday to make sure that visitors who needed to get off the Island could do so, before the storm disrupted service. And, on Monday, as soon as the Coast Guard allowed, the line was back in business and on schedule.

Just as impressive, boatline management, using weather information from all sources, made a discriminating judgment about the impact of the storm, deciding to leave vessels in Woods Hole rather than shifting all of them to the SSA yard at Fairhaven, behind the hurricane barrier there. That meant that on Monday morning, vessels were available at the crack of dawn to resume service.

The inability of town leaders and county government to agree on a common approach to storm information management, despite the host of information systems at their disposal, is simply gross dereliction. Information as important as that associated with storms such as Irene 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.