’Tis the season to be hurricane ready

Sep 5, 2023

Eversource is getting roadside trees trimmed and has a new backup circuit system for power outages. Town officials are ready to alert the public to evacuations, provide emergency shelter and deal with the aftermath of a hurricane. 

There's no Idalia or Bob or Gloria or its like currently whirling toward New England. However, preparations have amped up upon entering the part of the June-through-November hurricane season that historically brings the most destructive storms to the South Coast.

The town and utilities say they are prepared, and officials urge the public to be equally so.

Garry Buckminster, director of the Department of Natural Resources, said the first step in hurricane preparedness is communication. If a storm looms, he and his team take to social media to inform residents about the necessary steps to be taken and what can be expected from an upcoming storm.

There’s also the Smart911 alert system.

Patrick MacDonald, director of the Health Department and emergency management director, explains that Smart911 is a part of the reverse 911 system that helps police and other emergency services locate residents who call in and can place an automated call to all Wareham phone numbers with any storm warnings.

Buckminster said one of the first recommendations the town will issue is moving boats and securing them in safe locations.

“A lot of people tend to stay on their boats through storms and try to ride them out,” he said. 

“We obviously advise people not to do that,” he added.

Eversource’s Spokesperson Priscilla Ress said the electric company works year round to make changes and repairs that contribute to storm safety.

Ress said earlier this year, the Eversource engineers made improvements to the circuits to develop what is called a “loop scheme.”

Under this new system, if a circuit were to go out due to damage from a storm, the company can turn off that circuit and the electrical connection will bypass it to restore power.

She said company employees visited the circuits around town to check for damage and to assess whether any parts need to be replaced or repaired.

In 2021, Eversource purchased the Flagship Cinema property on Doty Street for use as a storm restoration staging area, Ress added.

“That allows for quicker storm response, improved operations in the South Shore and it also works for anything we need it for in the future,” Ress said.

Ress said the company does “extensive” tree trimming throughout the year.

She said more than 90% of all power outages during a storm are caused by trees.

“This year alone in Massachusetts, we’re investing $41 million to help reduce storm-related tree damage,” Ress added.

She said it is also important for the residents themselves to be prepared during the storm. Eversource provides a storm safety checklist and steps on how to build a storm safety kit – even one for pets.

Ress said she encourages Eversource customers to download the company’s app, which provides a communication channel and a power map where outages can be reported. Users can also watch the progress of the company addressing those issues.

Buckminster said as the storm progresses, his team will “try to stay mobile for as long as possible.”

From there, emergency workers will turn to the command staff for next steps and when the storm is over, first responders will head out into the town to assess damage and respond to rescue calls.

During a storm, he said he advises residents to “take the precautions, don’t leave your boats out and do everything you can to get them out.”

In addition to the costly expense of repairing a boat after storm damage, Buckminster said the boats themselves create an environmental impact.

Buckminster said his team will check with the marinas to ensure protocols are followed and fuel pumps are shut off to avoid the release of any gasses into the waterways.

MacDonald said in his role with the Health Department, he assists with finding shelter in town, which is typically at the Multi-Service Center. In his role as the emergency management director, MacDonald said he gathers information and communicates with emergency services in town. 

He also connects with some of the major box stores to check availability of needed items, which the town will also purchase in town. Sometimes, these stores will donate bottled water. For example, during the heatwave, he reached out to the stores for pallets of water for the cooling centers in town. 

Buckminster said, “We just really want to make sure people are taking the precautionary measures.”

He emphasized that people should prioritize their own safety over that of their property.

He added, “A boat is just not worth a human life.”