Saturday February 9, 2013

DUMMERSTON -- When officials tried to evacuate some residents to emergency shelters during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, they ran into a problem.

"At that point, there was nowhere to go in Windham County where you could bring your pets," recalled Rick Davis, Dummerston’s emergency management director.

For that reason, some residents wouldn’t go, Davis said. "And I don’t blame them."

Davis is hoping to address that issue by making the Community Center in West Dummerston a Red Cross-certified emergency shelter that’s also pet-friendly.

The designation would not interfere with normal activities at the Community Center and also could spur an investment of cash and resources by the Red Cross, Davis told the Selectboard Wednesday.

"I can’t see any bad points to it," he said. "It’s going to bring money to a building that’s underutilized."

Davis said the West Street building is in some ways ideal for a shelter that could be used during storms or other emergencies. He noted that the building has a full kitchen and other practical features.

"You’ve got a large area out front," he said. "You’ve got a perfect area downstairs for pets."

Davis added that the pet designation could help attract grant money or donations. He cautioned, though, that the shelter would not be a place to simply drop off a pet.

"They’d have to have their pets crated," he said. "They’d have to bring their own food.


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They’d be responsible for their pets."

Certification by the Red Cross would mean that agency provides 25 cots, 60 blankets, 10 cases of water and other provisions, Davis said.

Also, he said the Red Cross would cover half the cost of an "automated, full-building generator." He estimated the total cost of that generator to be $14,000.

"They’ll pick up $7,000," Davis said. "It’s up to us to pick up another $7,000."

Davis said in-kind labor could count toward the town’s contribution. Selectboard member Steve Glabach said finances are a concern but endorsed further review of the proposal.

"It bears looking into," Glabach said. "It sounds like a good idea."

Davis said he also could designate the community center as a backup emergency-operations center, which could free up other funding.

He said the Red Cross would assume liability for the building when it is used as a shelter. However, several volunteers who would staff the shelter must take a Red Cross course to be certified, Davis said.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, Davis also took time to update the Selectboard on the town’s radiological emergency response plan.

The plan details the town’s response if there is a disaster at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon. But Selectboard members have not signed off on the plan due to concerns about its accuracy and effectiveness, at one point labeling the document "unnervingly flawed."

After bringing up those issues at a September meeting of the Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel, Selectboard members said a conversation with state officials alleviated their concerns.

Davis detailed some ways that the plan has been tweaked, including:

-- The plan had called for West Dummerston residents to cross Route 30 and the West River to get to Route 5 before heading north to a receiving center in Bellows Falls.

Davis said the plan now makes provision for residents to use Route 30 to leave the area during a nuclear emergency.

-- In response to concerns about school evacuations, Davis said the plan now calls for Dummerston School children to be bused to Leland & Gray Union High School in Townshend.

Brattleboro Union High School students would be taken to Green Mountain High School in Chester, N.H., Davis said.

-- He also clarified that parents would be able to pick up their children at school. Town officials had been under the impression that, in an effort to keep students together, children could not leave with a parent.

"There’s no one who’s going to stop you and say, ‘You can’t take your kid,’" Davis said.

-- The Selectboard had said a list of farmers who could re-enter the evacuation zone to care for livestock was "quite outdated." Davis said that list now is up to date.

-- Also, if those who staff the area’s emergency-operations centers also must be evacuated, all such officials will gather in one place. That spot has not yet been identified, but Davis said the arrangement will be beneficial.

"I’ll be able to turn to Brattleboro or Guilford or Vernon and discuss what needs to be discussed," he said.

Davis told Selectboard members that any nuclear emergency will play out relatively slowly so that officials have time to get people where they need to go.

In drills, "everything seems fast-paced because it’s in a very compressed time frame," he said. "But in reality, it’s going to be hours and days for these things to take place."

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.