Shelter needs helpers

Ridgefielders gathered at the shelter set up at the old high school Aug. 29, 2011, after Hurricane Irene knocked out most of the town’s power. Now officials hope to use the Recreation Center, which has better facilities.

Signing up to help out in an emergency isn’t a blood oath — the town’s emergency planners just want to know who might be able to help if another disaster displaces people like in last year’s one-two weather punch.

“It’s never an obligation, even for our trained CERTs,” said Deputy Director of Emergency Management Dick Aarons referring to the Community Emergency Response Team members. “We believe that the primary job of any householder in Ridgefield is taking care of one’s family.”

When people were displaced during the aftermath of last year’s tropical storm and October snow storm, the town’s shelter operators found that people were looking for ways to help out, rather than sit idle.
While that was helpful, Mr. Aarons said it’s advantageous if people who might be willing to help sign up ahead of time. It would provide planners with a list of volunteers to call to see who is available. And if people are not available, if they need to take care of their homes and families, or if they decided to leave town to avoid the chaos, that’s fine.

“The first step is taking care of one’s family,” said Mr. Aarons. “Next, start thinking about your neighborhood, and then the third step is, if you find after doing that, that you’ve got the time and inclination, to help out with our sheltering.”

In addition, if people provide their email addresses they can be notified from time-to-time of training opportunities that can help people in “mass care” situations like sheltering or within their homes or neighborhoods.

There are different levels of training people can receive to help deliver mass care, from on-the-spot “last-minute” training in things like setting up cots, to more involved responsibilities, like actually managing a town  and Red Cross-recognized shelter — a level of training that individuals are sorely needed for.
The town has only four trained shelter managers, though Ed Briggs, the health inspector who is also the town’s mass care coordinator, would almost certainly have other tasks during and after a disaster widespread enough to call for mass care.

That leaves three people to run the shelter, which requires a certified manager to be present at all times.
The town should have closer to 14 trained shelter managers, said Mr. Aarons — enough to run a shelter for a week, with managers taking a single 12-hour shift.

Last year, thousands flowed through the shelters each day, but only dozens slept over because of the relatively mild weather. If sheltering needs were more demanding, it might force more than one town building to be used for refuge, creating even greater demand on the shelter operators.
People can contact Mr. Aarons for information about CERT training by email

Generator specs expected soon

Add a second generator? Replace the current one with a beefier model and move the one that’s there to the Town Hall Annex? Buy a used one, a new one, or move one the town already owns?

Those are the decisions Town Engineer Charlie Fisher is expected to make when he designs the bid specifications to complete the voter-approved overhaul to the Rec Center’s generating capacity.

The center is the town’s preferred shelter since it is the most comfortable facility of the town’s municipal buildings, but it doesn’t currently have enough generator capacity to function without grid power. In last year’s storms the town’s shelter was set up elsewhere but moved there as soon as power was restored.

While the town does have two portable generators, they are not powerful enough to run the Rec Center.

Voters approved $150,000 in the 2011-12 budget referendum for adding a bigger power plant there, but deciding how that is achieved is the town engineer’s job.

First Selectman Rudy Marconi said he predicts moving an underutilized generator from Barlow Mountain Elementary School will be the best bet. He expects the final specifications to be put out to bid by Oct. 1.

‘Regional’ shelter no major change

Ridgefield was selected by the Red Cross to be a regional shelter, but the designation doesn’t change how the town will operate its shelters.

As a regional shelter, “if a nearby resident from Danbury or Redding or Wilton or say Brewster or South Salem happened to need a place,” the town would provide them shelter, said Ed Briggs, the town’s health inspector who functions as the town’s mass care coordinator during emergencies. “Which we did anyway.”

“It effectively doesn’t change anything” on the town’s side, Mr. Briggs said.

The real difference is that the Red Cross, stretched thin with such widespread damage last year, is now prioritizing regional shelters first when it comes to delivering support, Mr. Briggs explained.

And the kitchen sink…

The generator was a higher priority than a kitchen at the Parks and Rec shelter — but both are important, says Deputy Director of Emergency Management Dick Aarons.

The former was approved in the 2011-12 capital budget, but the $26,000 kitchen was not included in the spending plan voters were asked to approve.

Soon after budget season, Mr. Aarons told the Board of Selectmen that the Red Cross announced its ability to provide assistance in another disaster as widespread as last year’s storms was very limited.

That news made the need for a kitchen more urgent, to give the town the flexibility in keeping and serving perishable food, Mr. Aarons said.

There is already a room at the Rec Center that was designed in the original architect’s plans as a kitchen which is plumbed and wired but lacks kitchen appliances.

The plans would include a commercial range hood, estimated at $10,000, a $1,500-$3,000 stove, a “reach-in” refrigerator at $2,000 to $2,400, a three-bay sink, a smaller sink, and a stainless steel table, said Ed Briggs, the town health inspector, who is also the town’s mass care coordinator.

The town is seeking a regional grant to cover at least the range hood and possibly the stove as well.

Mr. Aarons hoped some commercial appliances might be found at the Schlumberger property the town bought, but all of the kitchen equipment was removed.

He wants to see whatever remaining equipment is still needed to outfit the kitchen in next year’s budget.

Anyone interested in privately funding the purchase of equipment can make tax exempt donations to the town, he said.

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