With the first anniversary of the infamous Halloween snowstorm rapidly approaching, the Townsend Emergency Management Agency is seeking members to respond and serve in shelters in the event of a similar catastrophe. The group had a recruitment and training session on Oct. 17 and will be having another on Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. to spread the message about emergency preparation and acquaint members with setting up and managing the shelter. The meeting will be held at the fire station on Elm Street.
TEMA Director Shirley Coit said up until the past couple of years, TEMA had been relatively inactive, but it has become apparent there is a need to be prepared and equipped.
"Between the snowstorm last year and the ice storm previously, we've come to realize that (residents) have a lot of needs relating to emergencies," she said.
Following last year's snowstorm, according to TEMA Deputy Director Tom Whittier, the shelter at Hawthorne Brook Middle School housed approximately 25 people at any given time for the first four days. Coit said with only a few volunteers manning the shelter, it was an enormous strain on the people handling the shelter.
"Somebody has to be there all the time when it's open," she said. "Three or four is not enough. (TEMA member) Ray Jackson stayed every night. We appreciated it, but it was too much to ask anybody to do."
It's not just blizzards that TEMA needs to be prepared for, either.
"It's all-hazards awareness," said Whittier. "Things like the tornadoes that went through western Massachusetts, people weren't really expecting that kind of situation. We look at stuff like that because it can happen anywhere. Also thunderstorms, hurricanes, loss of electricity due to mechanical failure, weapons of mass destruction, a pandemic, anything that cities are looking to protect their people from."
TEMA members are required to have National Incident Management Assistance training, but the training can be done online and "is not time invasive," said Coit. Shelter volunteers are not required to have the same training, although they need to have CORI background checks. Additional training such as CPR is not required but is desirable.
Coit will also be recruiting TEMA members and shelter volunteers during Special Town Meeting before it officially commences. She speaks prior to every Town Meeting about emergency preparedness, ranging from what people should have in their "go bags" prior to coming to the shelter to what they need to have for pet care.
"Basically you need to be prepared to survive for at least three days without any help from anyone, and that's whether you stay in your house or whether you're evacuated and go to a shelter," she said.
Some of the more commonly understood basics include canned food, medication, clothes, batteries and flashlights.
"We have cots and blankets for people who stay overnight. We do not have pillows, clothes or a lot of other things people would want to have," she said. "Meals will be served, but they won't be fancy -- they won't be gourmet."
Some of the less obvious but equally necessary items include cellphone chargers, toilet paper, a can opener for canned food and entertainment, especially for children. Coit also suggests bringing a camera to assess property damage resulting from storms, as well as copies of important documents, such as birth and wedding certificates, drivers licenses, Social Security cards, passports and credit cards, in case of a major incident.
"Like in a tornado, the house might not be there," she said.
A more extensive list is available at ready.gov.
A barn is available to house large animals, but TEMA is currently working on finalizing a location to keep house pets.
The shelter is equipped with a generator, and the Senior Center is used as a warming center during the day.
For people who would rather stick out the storm at home, Whittier suggests taking steps to ensure preparedness, such as stocking up on sustainable food supplies and considering how they are going to be cooked.
"Some people don't think about the stove not working, or they will stock pile the freezer with food, and the power goes out for a week," he said.
But mostly, said Whittier, people need to pay attention to the weather.
"Keep your ears pricked for serious weather storms, and depending on the weather, you need to give that some consideration," he said.
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