In a formal statement given in April of 2006, Governor Donald Carcieri of Rhode Island set in motion some of the most important aspects of Rhode Island’s ongoing attempt to prepare for the onslaught of a major hurricane hitting its coastline with full force. Those efforts continue today. Sitting on the cost of Rhode Island is its state capital and largest city, Providence. But there are many other coastal communities that will feel the brunt of any Class 3 or larger storm that roars up the Atlantic coast. And then there are the island dwellers. Block Island, Aquidneck Island and Jamestown would certainly be in great peril were they to fall in the path of a major hurricane. When your state is called the Ocean State then your job as governor quickly becomes to organize and prepare for the worst possible weather scenario – the powerful, driving, wind and rain of a major hurricane.
Lots of Warnings – According to Governor Carcieri, Rhode Island has been the target of some 9 major hurricanes that have wreaked havoc along the shore since 1851. In more modern times the disaster of 1938 which touched down along Long Island, New York Connecticut and finally Rhode Island and Massachusetts, is frequently referenced as one of the worst disasters to strike downtown Providence. It hit at high tide which brought a storm surge into coastal Providence leaving cars under as much as 7 ft of water and causing millions of dollars of property damage and loss of human life. In 1954, Hurricane Carol devastated southern Rhode Island destroying 5,000 buildings from Westerly to Newport .
But among the warnings that Rhode Island now takes into consideration include two events that happened well away from its own shoreline. First the human disaster that followed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and second the multifaceted disaster in New York City on 9/11. Both of these disasters, one man made and the other natural underline how essential it is for every state to have in place disaster planning and preparation
Evacuation Plans – Since Katrina Rhode Island’s governor has directed Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency to thoroughly update Rhode Island’s hurricane preparation. The nationally televised images of the thousands of stranded victims of Katrina helps to put the need for evacuation plans in the middle of the table for any of Rhode Islands efforts to prepare for a possible hurricane hit. The state has made evacuation plans for its coastal communities of which there are more than 20. To get information about hurricane preparation and evacuation into the hands of coastal residents the state conducted a mass mailing to 300,000 homes that included evacuation maps and information about state shelters as well as general preparedness and safety suggestions.
Rhode Island state government has shared the responsibility for local evacuation and preparedness with each of the local communities. Coastal towns must have in place general preparedness plans and evacuating routes. Special notice has been passed along to towns to center attention on the need to provide for the evacuation of those within the community who are disabled.
The plans currently in place to assure safe and swift evacuation prior to a hurricane have been reviewed and approved by officials of the Department
of Homeland Security.
Shelters Again with the bad example of Hurricane Katrina well etched in the public mind, the Governor has indicated that the upgrading of state shelters is an important part of any hurricane planning. People being evacuated from coastal areas cannot be evacuated to nowhere. While some may seek shelter with friends and relatives who happen to live away from the coast , many will find themselves in need of state provided sheltering facilities.
To provide for those thousands of people the Governor has determined to pursue the task of bringing thirty state shelters up to an acceptable level to meet the needs of evacuees.
Inter-Agency Cooperation – The Governor recognized that during the Katrina disaster one of the biggest problems was the lack of communication and cooperation between the many relief and first response groups. More cooperation would have made a real difference in evacuation and the sheltering of victims.
To avoid a similar disconnect in Rhode Island the Governor has begun efforts to better partner with agencies like The Rhode Island Community food Bank, the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross Should a hurricane hit Rhode Island it is likely that donations and material assistance will very quickly begin to arrive in the state. The problem then becomes how to divide and deliver these relief supplies to meet the needs of the citizens of Rhode Island as quickly and justly as possible. In any hurricane situation, food , water and ice are key ingredients to survival . Planning for their distribution has to be a central piece of preparedness.
Expected to help in the efforts to maintain communication between all arms of the relief effort during and after a storm is the state’s new Mobile Command Center which can set up shop anywhere in the state and help to communicate among agencies on the spot.
Refuse Disposal. Another image that literally floats back to anyone who watched televised reports of Katrina is that of the streets of New Orleans littered with floating debris. The stark reality is hurricanes cause not just damage but also debris . The state is hard at work with the Department of environmental Management to provide contingency plans for the speedy and effective removal of the tons of debris that will be generated. Failure to do so can mean potential pollution and the creation of prime conditions for disease.
Being prepared to meet the full fury of a hurricane even in small state like “Little Rhody” is a major undertaking requiring the concerted efforts of government, relief agencies and local leaders . These efforts instituted by the Governor of Rhode Island seem to have put the state on a solid footing to await the storms of the future.