Editors, Vineyard Gazette:
I was reading Eric Klinenberg’s article Adaptation in this week’s New Yorker and it occurred to me to wonder how this Island would have fared if Hurricane Sandy had scored a direct hit here. It’s worth considering that Hurricane Bob, the last major storm most of us remember, was merely a category two hurricane. The hurricanes in 1938 and 1944 were strong category three storms, but the Island is a much different place than it was then. Klinenberg discusses why some neighborhoods and communities are more resilient than others. Protecting critical infrastructure is certainly important; social networks are surprisingly protective as well.
So let’s sit down and make a plan for extreme weather events. I would like to know whether our hospital would have been able to continue to function with an 18-foot storm surge. The Beach Road approach to the hospital would certainly be impassable; even relatively minor weather events shut that road down. If we do have to evacuate the hospital and Windemere, where can we take those vulnerable patients? Let’s have a plan ready before it happens.
Hurricane season runs from June to November; in other words, we have an even chance of a hurricane hitting when the Island population numbers about 80,000. Do we have a system in place so that first responders know which homes are inhabited? For that matter, what is the maximum occupancy at the high school?
Given their druthers, most people strongly prefer to hunker down and stay in their homes during a storm. The cities of Brooklyn and New York had very detailed block-by-block storm surge maps telling people where it was safe to stay and from where it was mandatory to evacuate. This information probably exists for the Island as well; it would be tremendously helpful to make it available on a public website so that Islanders can make a detailed safety plan ahead of a storm.
Most of our gas stations are likely to be within the flooded areas. Packer’s tanks are certainly vulnerable. If all of us are filling up at the Airport Mobil, we’re likely to run out pretty fast. But how fast?
We all love our dogs and cats. If half the houses on the Island are reduced to matchsticks, what’s the plan for our animals? For that matter, where can we shelter the Island’s population of horses?
As for the social network component, I’d say we do pretty well on that front, but there are people who might tend to fall through the cracks. Let’s not lose people inadvertently because they had the bad luck to be old, or not from here, or in poor health or crazy when the storm hits.
I don’t know the answers to these questions and there are surely many others I haven’t thought of asking. I know some of the public information elements will cost money to implement. I do think the towns can probably get a grant to sit down together and make contingency plans and a public information campaign to prepare us for a big storm. We’re overdue.
Petra Lent McCarron, Vineyard Haven