2018-09-13 / Opinion


How Prepared Are We?

Code Red icon on the city of Newport's website homepage. Code Red icon on the city of Newport's website homepage. Anyone watching the news over the past week or so cannot have missed the tragic news of Hurricane Florence heading toward the Carolinas. As our readers open our pages today, Florence may be making landfall, almost a year to the week from the touchdown of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

Last year, some national headlines read, “The 2017 Hurricanes Didn’t Just Hit Puerto Rico, They Hit the Nation.”

The aftermath of Maria is still very much in the news, the latest revelation being that millions of gallons of bottled water were delivered to a tarmac in Puerto Rico covered with blue tarps, and is now all undrinkable. Almost 3,000 people were killed on that island as a result of Maria.

We have escaped yet another proverbial bullet this year, as Florence will not visit Newport. However, no one knows what the rest of hurricane season might bring. Resident updates on emergency situations may get better though, because one of the priorities for the city’s new Communications Officer Tom Shevlin is to upgrade and improve the city’s website, cityofnewport.com. You can read more about Shevlin’s appointment on the facing page.

Below is our editorial, much of it unchanged from the Sept. 7, 2017 editorial because few things have changed since that time in our emergency preparedness.

A few things have. For example, as we mentioned in last year’s editorial, a Red Cross office was located on the island in Middletown for many years, but had since been closed. We also reported that when doing an Internet search there was still a listing for a Red Cross office at 1015 Aquidneck Avenue, but now the redcross.org/local/rhode-island prominently states, “The American Red Cross of Rhode Island, located in Providence, serves all 39 cities and towns in Rhode Island as well as Seekonk, Massachusetts.”

So, changes and updates are happening, albeit slowly. Is it possible we have become complacent, regarding how devastating these storms can be?

Nearly 20 years ago, our publisher was trained as a Red Cross shelter volunteer at the office in Middletown. Much of the onsite training was held at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center. However, because of national rating requirements, mostly for generators, the designation for MLK as an emergency shelter has been discontinued.

In 2014, the Newport School Committee unanimously approved the official American Red Cross Shelter Agreement, which allows the Red Cross to use Pell as a temporary emergency shelter during a disaster. However, according to a discussion with Fire Chief Brian Dugan, if there was a call for evacuation, Newport residents would only be able to report to the Gaudet emergency shelter.

There is good news with the availability of social media. Last year, the Newport Police Department posted links on Facebook and on Nextdoor.com, where people could sign up for Code Red, a mobile app notification on the city’s website. Look for the Code Red icon near the top. Create an account and you will be issued emergency messages via text, email, or telephone message.

In 2014, the first Aquidneck Island Emergency Preparedness Expo was held, at the Edward King House. Perhaps it’s time for another expo of this sort?

Besides preparing your own family and belongings in case of emergency, if you have the time, consider Red Cross training, so the next time we need to open our island shelters, we are really prepared.

So, the question remains, how prepared are we?

Return to top