Halifax discusses possible use of school as shelter

Saturday June 22, 2013

HALIFAX -- When Tropical Storm Irene hit, many Vermonters did not know where to go for basic amenities and food.

The Red Cross is in the process of making agreements with Vermont towns that designate a facility as a shelter for use in emergencies. If it is used for more than 72 hours, the Red Cross would take over running the shelter.

On June 18, Co-Emergency Management Director John LaFlamme presented the Halifax Selectboard with the option of possibly using the Halifax School, where the Town Offices are, as a Red Cross shelter for emergency situations like Irene.

LaFlamme went to a training session, where he learned that Readsboro and Stamford had gone into similar agreements with the Red Cross.

"It's a minor agreement, where the Selectboard would make a decision to open a shelter," said LaFlamme. "There'd be a written agreement with whoever owns the building where the shelter would be established."

He said that Red Cross would supply all the equipment necessary for opening a shelter and provide training for all the volunteers for the shelter. The Red Cross would reimburse the town for food and other items used during use of the shelter.

"Halifax is never short for volunteers," LaFlamme said. He had already received interest from several people interested in becoming a volunteer.

Selectboard Chairwoman Edee Edwards said a similar venture had been presented to the town shortly after Irene. She said she thought people were burnt out after Irene, so it didn't go much further than discussions.

LaFlamme told the board that the first step would be speaking with the Selectboard then he would go to the School Board with the proposition.

"Generally, all towns are using the elementary schools," he said.

Edwards thought that the Red Cross required showers in its emergency shelters. LaFlamme said that the Red Cross had changed its stance on the matter.

"It's not required at all. Red Cross has come to the realization that if a shelter were to open for more than 72 hours, they'd come in with portable showers," he said. "We just need to establish these agreements. So, I'm just asking the Selectboard if this is something you want me to run with the ball on and see how far it goes. To me, it seems like it's win-win."

During Irene, Halifax residents went to Wilmington. At the time, Twin Valley High School was set up as the closet shelter in Vermont for Halifax residents who needed it. LaFlamme said a minimal amount of people wanted to use a shelter, but if the Halifax School was used, he thought more people would have been interested.

"During the ice storm, I wasn't involved in town government," said Edwards of another emergency situation. "I needed water to flush toilets and the ability to re-charge my devices. If I knew they'd open the school, that would have been great."

She said if the town has volunteers who are willing to do the training then the board should move forward to formalize an agreement with the Red Cross.

Halifax Selectboard member Earl Holtz voiced concern about storing the additional equipment. There is already some equipment that the town received during Irene that is currently being kept at the Town Garage, where there is a noted shortage of space.

Holtz said Road Commissioner Brad Rafus should be consulted because the board would need to know if more room could be made at the Town Garage.

The Red Cross equipment includes 25 cots, 50 blankets and sheets, plus forms, documents and a radio.

Edwards inquired about the length of time it would take for volunteers to go through the required training courses. LaFlamme said he could find that out.

The Selectboard agreed that this should be a project to look into.

"I think it's a worthwhile endeavor," said Holtz. "I just have a lot of questions."

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or cmays@reformer.com. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.


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