The blizzard last Thursday was brief but fierce, with high winds and cold temperatures outpacing the snowfall itself. By all reports, snowplows bested the accumulation and kept roads open, if dangerous in the whiteout, across the Island.
The expected result of a storm like this — downed lines and power outages extending over large swaths of Aquinnah, Chilmark, Oak Bluffs, and West Tisbury — left an estimated 8,000 Islanders without power, and therefore without heat, light, or water, for extended periods while Eversource dispatched repair crews across the Island.
As the storm peaked and darkness set in, MV Times reporters tried to reach Island officials so we could include shelter information in the real-time updates we were publishing throughout Thursday and into Friday morning. Our calls predominantly ended up in voicemail mailboxes, and yielded no help. The few calls which actually reached a human sometimes produced misinformation regarding open facilities. Eventually we got the correct answer: Federated Church in Edgartown and Aquinnah town hall.
In the end, it took a great deal more doggedness than an ordinary citizen without power should be expected to expend to find emergency shelter. This was an obvious task for county government. In fact, the Dukes County Emergency Management Agency has a $13,000 line item in the 2017 budget for providing “coordination between the towns during emergencies like … winter storms,” along with “planning and implementation of disaster plans and procedures.”
Shelters are needed for all the obvious reasons, but they are useless if Island residents in need don’t know where they are. Cell phones can keep us connected even if landlines are down, and we can easily receive automatic calls (like those we get from Eversource) and breaking-news updates on websites like mvtimes.com. Cell phones also enable Islanders to call police and emergency services, and see for themselves that there’s no helpful information at the other end of the line.
This storm was fierce but brief, and owing to good fortune, no serious health or safety issues arose. But trusting to good fortune, especially with such a simple set of problems and plenty of Islandwide resources at our disposal, amounts to playing Russian roulette, and makes no sense.