Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, December 6, 2018
Emergency planning takes center stage in two-town meeting
Hancock County Emergency Management Agency Director Andrew Sankey stresses individual and community resiliency in the face of a natural or human-made disaster at a November 30 emergency planning meeting at the Deer Isle-Sunset Congregational Church.
by Anne Berleant
Over 50 islanders filled the Deer Isle-Sunset Congregational Church November 29 with a shared focus: emergency planning in the event a natural or human-made disaster hits the island.
“What are the threats we need to be prepared to handle?” Deer Isle Town Manager Jim Fisher posed.
Storms, power outages, terrorism, floods, droughts, sun spots, and technological disasters, to start with, according to Hancock County Emergency Management Agency Director Andrew Sankey.
“You’re at the far end of the universe,” Sankey told the mix of Deer Isle and Stonington residents. “You need to be self-sufficient and plan for yourself.”
Emergencies that could hit the island are mainly natural ones, forecast 48 to 72 hours ahead. “That gives us the time and opportunity to plan and prepare,” Sankey said. While food and water come first to mind, what about medicine, for people and pets? What about heat for those who have no alternative to electric-powered fuel systems?
“There is no government agency at any level that will come to your rescue,” Sankey said. Of the 250 cots his agency owns, he asked, “Are they going to be at the middle school in Ellsworth or here?”
Sankey stressed resiliency, on an individual level first, that will lead to community resiliency. “Your house has to be in order,” he said. “Then, your community will be in order.”
Stocking supplies, keeping up to three months of prescription medicine on hand, and knowing the resources on your own street are a start.
Stonington Town Manager Kathleen Billings outlined steps the town has taken in forming an emergency operation plan, including rating risks such as fire and extreme power outages, participating in the county mitigation plan, and holding “table top exercises” for events ranging from a train overturning to a flood at Island Nursing Home.
As a result, the Island Community Center was designated as a warming center, with a generator purchased through donations, the town began upgrading drainage in culverts and cross culverts to help roads stay open in the event of flooding, and the recently activated cell tower includes a channel for Billings to communicate with the town road crew. That service was provided free of charge, she added. “You ask, you get.”
She also warned that volunteer forces such as the ambulance corps and fire department are vulnerable as members age out.
“Know your resources,” Billings said. “Keep up your infrastructure.”
Downeast District Public Health Liaison Alfred May, who covers Washington and Hancock counties, said the Maine Center for Communicable Diseases works with the county emergency planning agency, taking the lead only in public health emergencies, like food-borne illnesses or an influenza outbreak.
Hospitals, doctors offices, assisted living centers all have to have an emergency plan, he said, with part of his job getting “people to talk to each other, integrate plans and test plans.”
His agency’s closest point of distribution, or POD, for food, water and medical supplies is the Blue Hill Consolidated School, he said.
“When it’s all said and done, it’s your little community that will have to stick together,” May said.
Deer Isle-Stonington Schools Head of Maintenance Dave Pelletier said the elementary school can serve as a warming center but is not set up for overnight stays, and, like anyone else, “our generator is going to run out of fuel. … We have a very limited capacity at the school.”
In a Q&A that ended the session, residents outlined experiences, like how one neighborhood street prepared for a potential Y2K disaster; noted the “huge resource” in the fishing community; the presence of an airstrip in Stonington; and the presence of the food pantry and pharmacies.
“Every third person on this island has a boat,” one resident noted. “The bridge or causeway being out? Don’t panic.”