Chatham Storm Preparedness Sparks Discussion

CHATHAM – A presentation on Chatham’s emergency preparedness and its response to winter storms sparked discussion at a recent select board meeting.

Deputy Fire Chief Justin Tavano gave an update at the November 15 meeting and went over the town’s protocols in the event of severe storms and widespread power outages.

Tavano explained that the Chatham Community Center does not meet state standards to serve as a local overnight shelter because it can’t offer showers, dorms, full meals, or pet sheltering. Instead, the facility qualifies as a personal care site or warming location.

The closest regional shelter to Chatham this year is located 7 miles away in Harwich at Cape Cod Regional Technical High School.

Although Nauset Regional High School in Eastham was Chatham’s primary regional shelter last year, Tavano said the county is unsure about the facility’s use with ongoing construction projects.

For transportation during storms, Tavano said Barnstable County has an agreement with the CCRTA to bus people to regional shelters.

The fire department has also had conversations with the Center for Active Living to potentially use their vans as well.

Tavano noted that when there’s a major storm declaration, a waiver is granted to allow people to be transported in ambulances since the vehicles are usually only used for hospital transport.

“If you need to get somewhere, if you can’t drive yourself and you don’t have transportation, you call the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) and we’ll arrange the transportation for you. We’ll get you where you need to go,” he said.

During public comment, Chatham resident Elaine Gibbs said the transportation program was a “waste of manpower” and expressed frustration that the Community Center cannot be used for an overnight shelter.

Fire Chief David DePasquale said that Chatham doesn’t have enough volunteers to make the center a shelter and listed other reasons why it only serves as a warming location.

“We don’t have the capacity in our town. We don’t have the showers, we don’t have the food,” he said. 

When select board members asked if the Monomoy Regional Middle School could qualify as an overnight shelter, Tavano said that the facility lacks the generator capacity to provide adequate heat.

“The school’s generators operate emergency lighting and the boilers for hot water, which essentially just keeps the pipes from freezing,” he said.

Tavano said the Community Center will have a permanent generator installed in the late spring or early summer of 2023. The facility currently uses a portable generator.

Chatham resident Anne Stimpson questioned why it was taking so long to get the generator installed at the center. She said she and other residents thought it would already be in place before this winter.  

For preparedness tips, Tavano stated the importance of checking on neighbors before severe weather events.

“If you know you have a neighbor who’s particularly vulnerable, lives alone, is older, has mobility issues…, make sure that you’re helping them prepare,” he said.

The deputy chief also outlined the need for making emergency plans ahead of possible storms and communicating those plans to neighbors and family.

Tavano recommended people should sign up for the Rave alert system, or the reverse 911 notification system. Chatham Emergency Management can be contacted at 508-945-5191.

For emergency kits, Tavano suggested people should include enough food and water for 72 hours, basic hygiene products, batteries, a radio, clothing, a blanket, and personal documentation.

He said the department is seeking volunteers to help staff for personal care sites and the town’s Emergency Operations Center.

Volunteers are also still in need for the county’s regional shelters.

By Brian Engles, NewsCenter

About Brian Engles

Brian Engles is a longtime local of the Cape. He studied Film & TV at Boston University and in addition to his role at Cape Cod Broadcasting Media, he also works as a music instructor and records original songs.
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