GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

October 27, 2012

The Mayor's Desk: Preparing for disaster

Mayor's Desk Carolyn Kirk
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — When the city’s emergency management director (EMD) sends out an e-mail to city management stating, “we are monitoring the weather conditions,” chances are we are in for a big blow.

Fire Chief Eric Smith is our EMD and that is exactly the e-mail he sent out on Tuesday – fully a week prior to any sign of Hurricane Sandy coming our way.

As the EMD, Chief Smith receives alerts from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, or MEMA (FEMA is the Federal Emergency Management Agency). In its situational awareness statement No. 1, MEMA gave the first sign of needing to prepare for an emergency event.

MEMA’s statement included the National Service Weather forecast along with the types of scenarios that might evolve regarding the storm. They also began to lay out the most likely threats arising from the storm, and advised communities to start taking precautions. At that stage, we were simply urged to monitor the weather forecasts.

As the storm has progressed, MEMA continued to send out its situational assessment statements. Statement 2 arrived Wednesday, with a more accurate forecast and a more specific set of steps for communities to take, such as reviewing emergency plans, assessing flood-prone areas, updating emergency contact lists, and testing generators.

Chief Smith undertakes and oversees these preparations, keeps city management apprised of any changes in status, and, at the same time, Public Works is undertaking its preparations, as is the harbormaster.

If a storm is not escalating and appears to be diminishing, MEMA will continue to send out situational assessments until the threat is completely passed. However, if the storm threat increases, MEMA will then initiate daily conference calls with EMDs, public safety and public works officials.

MEMA’s first conference call regarding Sandy was held Thursday. Once the storm has reached the status of MEMA needing to provide live updates to communities, the mayor’s office pulls in city management to review the status of our preparations.

So, prior to the MEMA call, Fire Chief/EMD Smith, Police Chief Leonard Campanello, Public Works Director Mike Hale, Chief Administration Officer Jim Duggan, Harbormaster Jim Caulkett, a Coast Guard representative from StationGloucester, and our grant-funded emergency management coordinator, Carol McMahon, gathered in my office so that I could receive the report on how our preparations are going.

For example, the DPW has ensured us that all equipment — such as saws and the bucket truck — are ready for fallen trees. Staffing plans are being reviewed for the sewer treatment plant and other important infrastructure that may need close watch. The DPW list even includes checking the hanging flower baskets on Main Street.

Last year, during this same type of preparation meeting for Hurricane Irene (which we pretty much dodged), we made the decision to order the side of the Paint Factory taken down that was hanging by a few nails so that it wouldn’t become a navigation hazard. We also took down City Hall’s broken chimneys so they wouldn’t fall down or blow down. This year, of course, we are checking to make sure the wind turbine components are battened down.

Again, depending on the escalation or diminishment of the event, we will either just continue to hold daily briefing meetings that coincide with the MEMA daily briefings, or we will make the move to open and staff the city’s Emergency Operations Center.

I urge all residents to monitor the forecasts, and take storm precautions.

We will be ready if the storm hits but we also need you to be ready, too.

Carolyn Kirk is mayor of the city of Gloucester.