GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

February 12, 2013

City's lack of shelter draws fire

Kirk defends decision; councilors cite Fuller

By Richard Gaines
Staff Writer

---- — Gloucester did not open — or plan to open — an emergency shelter for the weekend blizzard.

But the policy was noted in advance of the storm, and was due to three factors, Leonard Campanello, the city’s police chief and emergency management director, and Mayor Carolyn Kirk said Monday.

Those were the lack of a facility with the required services — space, heat, water, and food services — the nature of the storm, and advice from the state emergency managers,

But while Kirk Monday defended the decision to not establish a shelter, two city councilors — Greg Verga and Bruce Tobey — argued that had the Fuller School been maintained it would have been a resource option of value in the blizzard.

”We ran a skeleton (Emergency Operations Center) out of Addison Gilbert Hospital,” the mayor said in an email. “In our emergency planning meeting, we determined that point-to-point transportation was going to be one of the biggest challenges for this event. Fire Stations, the DPW (Department of Public Works), Police Department and hospital would remain clear no matter what. To have to maintain an additional location like Fuller was going to strain resources too far.

“Also, due to the (state) travel ban,” Kirk said, “we ran with the strictest protocols for the EOC in that only authorized and trained personnel (Citizens Emergency Response Team volunteers) were given access, and under the condition that they had signed the city’s waiver of liability, and that they would commit to stay for the duration of the event.

”Fuller is good for a hurricane-type event but not for a blizzard of this magnitude,” the mayor added.

Rockport, which sustained heavy damage to homes and businesses on Bearskin Neck, opened an emergency shelter at Rockport High School in conjunction with the American Red Cross, and served 72 people, including about a dozen who stayed overnight Saturday to Sunday, according to the Rockport Police. But Gloucester officials indicated in their emergency preparation announcement on Friday that the city would not be opening an emergency shelter at Fuller School, which had served as a shelter in the past.

Campanello said the decision against establishing a shelter site for the blizzard was “a command decision.” In a telephone interview, he said, “We have warming areas” as Kirk noted.

”We’re just not set up to be a shelter,” Campanello said. “Shelters have to be set up before the storm, it’s good to plan out” the use of resources including staffing. It’’s a pretty big operation. We just don’t have a place (for a shelter at this time.)”

Campanello added that the Red Cross “is very well set up for these things.”

”They had one in Newbury and Lynn (for the blizzard),” he noted, adding that the idea of planning for a shelter in Gloucester was “in discussion.”

”Lynn and Newbury with the travel ban doesn’t help anybody on Cape Ann,” said Verga. “What is the best use for Fuller School? It has generator, it has everything It seems like a no-brainer, it’s got the space, the central location, parking facilities, it’s already (served as) the emergency response center.

”It’s been allowed to go to seed,” Verga added, “and nobody had anything to do with that but the administration.”.

Tobey, the four-term former mayor and school committee member and current councilor-at-large, agreed.

”Fuller School has long served the community well as a shelter during times of emergency,” said Tobey. “In my years as mayor (during the 1990s through 2001), we put it to frequent use during a range of events including 1991’s Perfect Storm, numerous blizzards and other serious storm events, and fires.

”That the city’s deliberate neglect of the building now renders it unfit for shelter use is yet another example of why we need to restore Fuller to full community use immediately,” he added. “There should be no more talk of building a new elementary school until that occurs.”

Kirk said the decision regarding a shelter at Fuller or anywhere was not reached in a vacuum.

“Sheltering was an issue we discussed at our emergency planning meeting on Thursday,” the mayor said in an email. “It was agreed that our official policy is to follow state policy in this regard, and therefore for all sheltering we will rely on the Red Cross, and will provide transportation through CATA (Cape Ann Transportation Authority) in the instances where the Red Cross shelter is set up regionally.”

In support of her decision, Kirk referred the Times to the Massachusetts Emergency Management System memo of last Thursday, which outlined care and shelter plans for municipalities, which said in part:

“(The American Red Cross) will not activate regional shelters prior to the storm as there is no anticipation for demand, and impact areas will not be defined until after the storm. ARC will have capability to activate regional shelters post-storm as needs and areas of impact are defined. If power outages become an issue in your community, we encourage communities to be prepared to open warming centers/personal care sites as the need arises. At this time, please identify potential locations and ensuring resources are in place.

“... If sheltering demand rises to a level of need, ARC will open regional shelters to support individuals in need of overnight accommodations. By reporting your sheltering needs, ARC can best identify a regional shelter location and capacity,” MEMA’s memo said.

Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at rgaines@gloucestertimes.com.