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Hurricane Irene Response not all Good

Emergency preparation weaknesses to be studied.

Selectmen acknowledged last week that although Norton staff did everything possible to cope with Hurricane Irene, prolonged power outages and a lack of communication made life miserable for many.

Perhaps the most distressing aspect of Norton's response to the storm was that power was out for days for the dozens of elderly citizens in the town's West Main Street senior citizen housing complex, and no backup plan was in evidence.

"The people on our end did everything they could," said veteran board member Bob Kimball. He noted National Grid workers came in from all over the country to help get Norton's power back up, and said he knew they too had made sacrifices to be there.

Pointing out 1,700 students were also without electricity, Kimball said he wants to set up a committee of fire, police, communications and security staff to meet with town administration and National Grid representatives.

"I want to sit and discuss what went wrong, and how to change it," said Kimball.

Kimball said the fact that 14 Norton senior citizens had to be moved to an Attleboro shelter because they were on supplemental oxygen was unfortunate, and could have been prevented if the housing authority that operates the senior complex realized there were generators at the schools that could have been brought in.

"We need our own shelter," said Kimball. "On Wednesday, the American Red Cross shut (the Attleboro shelter) down - by that time power was back to 120 West Main.

"That is a state-controlled agency," he said of the senior housing. "There is no reason they can't have some kind of power.

"Either we have our own shelter, or the Red Cross should be on the hook to do something," he said. "We need a plan of action, to identify the trouble spots."

Mary Steele agreed, saying, "We incorrectly assumed there was an emergency plan. We were all warned we could be without power for a week or 10 days. This is a state-funded facility - I would like to talk to the director."

Chairman Brad Bramwell commented the new Fire Chief Paul Schleicher had to take the wheel early in his tenure. "Irene welcomed him in the first week on the job," he said.

Kimball also praised Police Chief Brian Clark for his forethought in setting up a Facebook page for residents who had smart phones.

Bramwell noted, "The was set up as a shelter, with quite a sizeable generator - it's unfortunate they had to go to Attleboro."

Town Manager Michael Yunits was on vacation, and members Tim Giblin and Bob Salvo were absent. When they return, the board will set up a round table discussion with all the primary responders to Irene, and try to address the weaknesses in systems that the fierce storm uncovered.

One weakness is being fixed now, however. Charlene Fisk of Norton Public Safety sent out a press release stating that the Plymouth County Sheriffs Department has contracted with Emergency Communications Network to license its CodeRED high-speed notification solution. The CodeRED system will provide Plymouth County and Bristol County officials the ability to quickly deliver messages to targeted areas throughout these two counties. 

Plymouth County Sheriff Joseph D. McDonald Jr., cautioned that such systems are only as good as the telephone number database supporting them. "lf your phone number is not in the database, you will not be called." One of the reasons the CodeRED system was selected is it gives individuals and businesses the ability to add their own phone numbers directly into the system's database. 

lf residents registered with the Plymouth Bristol Emergency Alert System prior to August 2011, residents are asked to re-register with the new provider, CodeRED. 

"No one should automatically assume his or her phone number is included," Sheriff McDonald said urging all individuals and businesses to log onto the Sheriffs Department website, www.pcsdma.org and follow the link to the CodeRED Community Notification Enrollment" page.  

Those without Internet access may call the Sheriffs Field Services Division at 508-830-6324, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Required information includes first and last name, physical street address, city, state, zip code and primary phone number. Additional phone numbers can be entered as well. All businesses should register, as well as all individuals who have unlisted phone numbers, who have changed their phone number or address within the past year, and those who use a cellular phone or VolP phone as their primary number. 

''CodeRED allows geographically based delivery, which means street addresses are required to ensure emergency notification calls are received by the proper individuals in a given situation," McDonald said. "The system works for cell phones too, but we need to have an associated street address to provide relevant messages." 

CodeRED gives those who want to be included an easy and secure method for inputting information. The data collected will only be used for emergency notification purposes. Questions should be directed to the Plymouth County Sheriffs Department Field Services Division 508-830-6324.

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