Storm shelter designations about more than just space to hold evacuees
Pleasantville schools provided the only designated shelter on the mainland as many other communities lacked the capacity.
Nearby schools in Atlantic City, Linwood and Northfield all have space to house evacuees, but they don’t have the supporting infrastructure, such as adequate emergency generators.
“If the situation required the schools, I am sure they would cooperate with us,” said Chief Robert James, of the Linwood and Northfield police.
But the county must designate the schools as a shelter before those plans can be executed, James said. Protocol in an emergency situation, he said, is to have power and enough essential items, such as food and water, for at least 24 hours.
The amount of space available in the two communities’ schools would make them ideal shelters, he said, but other factors inhibit that.
“I don’t think the generator is enough for a whole-building power source,” he said said of Northfield Community School and Mainland Regional High School.
During the recent hurricane, Pleasantville hosted hundreds of victims and evacuees for a week following the storm. The shelters, Pleasantville Middle and High schools, are equipped with built-in generators, making them an ideal choice for an emergency situation. Both are designated as county shelters.
Dennis Mulvihill, the district’s business administrator, said they were built with generators as part of the construction process. The generators are powered by natural gas, which means they are still dependent on an external source during a storm.
In addition, the gas meter is not separate for the generators. The gas used to power the generators is billed through the same meter as normal operations, Mulvihill said.
Large-scale evacuation and shelter sites were prepared in the days before the recent hurricane, catering to the coastal communities, but smaller shore towns designated city halls as the last resort shelter in the municipalities’ emergency plans.
“It’s about championing resources,” James said. Pleasantville Mayor Jesse Tweedle agreed, saying the county had the resources to handle operations in the emergency situation, rather than taking on the task at the municipal level.
But the smaller mainland shore towns don’t have designated shelter sites unless instructed to do so. When the situation requires a planned shelter, the American Red Cross takes over and sets up the site, James said.
“Our kitchen was operational, and we were able to power the buildings” when power went out, Mulvihill said.
Atlantic City High School fared differently, however. Having been turned into a shelter at the last minute, issues arose such as not enough power for cooking, and for some time the kitchen was inoperable. A second generator was brought in to help prepare meals for evacuees.
Mainland schools are equipped similarly– having the space to provide shelter, but not the resources to provide adequate necessities.
Though the schools have a generator, it exists only to power computer systems, keep servers at the right temperature, refrigerators working and emergency systems turned on.
“We had a proactive rather than reactive plan,” Tweedle said.
When the city was informed a hurricane was headed its way, preparations were made in addition to those required by the county’s emergency management system.
“We went to check on all the senior living facilities to make sure their generators were working,” Tweedle said. During the June 30 storm, one of the facilities in the area ran out of fuel for its generator while the power was out. He wanted to avoid the same scenario this time, he said.
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