West Tisbury emergency management director Russell Hartenstine posed four questions to a group of about 30 people at the Oak Bluffs library Saturday afternoon:
- Are you registered to receive emergency alerts from your town?
- What is your shelter plan?
- Do you have an evacuation route?
- And what is your communication plan?
Hartenstine took the group through each question, posing even more questions, pushing everyone to critically consider whether they would be ready if a disaster struck Martha’s Vineyard tomorrow. The talk ‘Be Emergency Wise’ is part of a series of climate solutions discussions that will be held monthly at the Oak Bluffs and West Tisbury libraries over the next six months.
“What kind of disasters are in our locality?” Hartenstine asked. “Tsunamis? Maybe. Volcanos? No. But earthquakes, wildfires, tornadoes, blizzards, and hurricanes? Yes. The Vineyard is a prime spot for many events. Are you ready for anything?”
Hartenstine started with communication, encouraging everyone to first and foremost define their network of support.
“How well do you know your neighbors, and how well do they know you?” Hartenstine began. “Are you going to check on them, and are they going to check on you? That’s our first network. These are our friends. It’s important to get to know the community and be a part of your neighborhood.”
If the power goes out, you run out of water, or your road is blocked, Hartenstine said, neighbors need each other, and these discussions should happen ahead of time.
Continuing on to out-of-state networks, Hartenstine said, “If we see a major disaster coming, somebody’s going to be worried about you … Have you given thought to who you’ll call to say, ‘I’m OK’?”
One call is better than 30, and Hartenstine recommends having an out-of-state contact to relay information to. “Other people are going to need that line,” he said. “Figure out who you’ll call, so they can pass the message to loved ones.”
If an individual has a disability or is elderly, the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) should be factored into your emergency preparedness communication plan, Hartenstine said.
“Part of your communication plan is to communicate to us what you need,” Hartenstine said. “Don’t assume we’re going to know. The more we involve ourselves in the community, the less we’ll need outside resources.”
Which segued into volunteering: “If you really want to be in the know, you should be volunteering,” Hartenstine said. The Red Cross, Salvation Army, town fire departments, and other local groups present opportunities for everyone to be involved in something. “Volunteering is about empowerment,” Hartenstine said. “If you want to know what’s going on, be a part of what’s going on. You’ll be the first alerted, the first prepared, and the first to help.”
Next, evacuation. Hartenstine asked: “How many people have thought about where you’re going to go if a Category 5 hurricane comes in three days?” He asked the group to consider the state of their homes. Do you have a generator? Does it run on propane? How long is that propane going to last? Do you have a well? Are you on town water? All of these questions relate to each household’s evacuation plan. “Is your house worth more than your life? Is a plane ticket much more expensive than a week or month of hell?”
Hartenstine noted that many people on the Island have second homes. “We need not be blind to that,” he said, asking the group to consider how that second home could benefit the Island community in the event of a disaster.
And if you don’t evacuate, you find shelter: shelter in place or regional shelters. “We don’t call for shelters often, and if we do, it takes every resource to put that together,” Hartenstine said. Only a few buildings meet the needs for a regional shelter on the Island. “The best one we have is the Oak Bluffs School,” Hartenstine said. “It has its advantages and disadvantages, but it’s dog-, cat-, animal-, health-, and food-compliant.”
Shelter in place requires further assessment of your home. “How many people have fire extinguishers in their house?” Hartenstine asked, and the majority of the room raised their hands. “How many people have looked at it in the past six months? How many people have used it? How many people have practiced with it?” Almost every hand lowered. “Preparedness is about checking and practicing,” Hartenstine said.
Each household should have an emergency kit. For each person per household per day, there should be one gallon of water. There should be food and a heat source to cook on. People should know the medicines, sanitary supplies, and health supplies they need to hunker down and shelter in place for several days.
And last, Hartenstine asked that everyone makes sure they are registered with their town’s Code Red system, which can be accessed on each town website. “Make sure you’re getting alerts and warnings,” Hartenstine said. “We can’t send them to everyone — only those who register.”
Each Island town has an emergency manager: Gary Robinson for Aquinnah, Tim Carroll for Chilmark, Hartenstine for West Tisbury, John Rose for Oak Bluffs, Alex Schafer for Edgartown, and John Crocker (temporary) in Vineyard Haven.
For more emergency preparedness resources, Hartenstine recommends ready.gov, fema.org, eversource.com (for power outages), and weather.gov (for weather alerts).
Hartenstine concluded, “You can do this. You can be prepared and part of the solution. We can maintain calm and bring back structure on this wonderful Island. Thank you for helping me be part of it.”
The next Climate Solutions talk, “Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change,” is Tuesday, Nov. 4, from 4 to 5 pm at the West Tisbury library, or Saturday Nov. 23, from 2:30 to 3:30 pm, at the Oak Bluffs library.