Shelters planned for bad weather

The aftermath of last month’s severe winter storm has initiated a plan to establish more than a dozen “warming stations” throughout Kitsap County, beginning with two on Bainbridge Island.

The county’s Department of Emergency Management (KCDEM) unveiled the plan Tuesday with community representatives from throughout the county, emphasizing that it’s still in a preliminary stage because it will be funded by the Department of Homeland Security.

The snow, freezing temperatures and high winds that struck the county before Thanksgiving Day paralyzed all of Kitsap County. More than 70,000 homes were isolated without power for as long as four days, including all of Bainbridge Island left powerless for the majority of that time.

The storm, which was more severe than predicted, led to hardship throughout the island – especially for the elderly and the most vulnerable islanders because of their inability to overcome the cold.

KCDEM, which will partner with the American Red Cross, proposes opening warming stations at the Bainbridge Island Senior Center Commons and Bethany Lutheran Church on Finch Road.

With Homeland Security funding, each of the stations will receive a generator free of cost, except for the purchase of a transfer switch required for the generator. Officials for KCDEM said the goal is to open a warming station in nearly every community in the county.

Bainbridge is receiving early attention, said Susan May, KCDEM’s public information officer, because of the need to provide space for cars and their occupants if they are unloaded off the ferry but are unable to travel on State Route 305 because of a storm. May said Bethany Lutheran has been identified as a possible site for that purpose.

“The ferry is a big worry for us because if it isn’t unloaded then it causes problems on the other side,” May said. “If we need to get cars off the road then we may need to find a place on the island, and we are looking at Bethany for that. But everything is still up in the air until we know what size of grants we will be getting from Homeland Security.”

May said the county is hopeful that it will get some of the warming stations operating before the winter ends, “but other than getting our planning started and in place, we don’t know when they will be up and running because we have no idea when the grants will be approved.”

The warming stations will not be overnight shelters, though the idea is to get them manned and ready to serve the community before a storm hits – if possible. But if the storm worsens and a station is set up to handle overnight visitors, then it’s up to those in charge of the facilities.

However, May said, the volunteers – which will be registered with KCDEM and are under its liability – for each warming station will need agency approval to stay overnight. She said the best practice would be to have volunteers who live close to the facilities.

The Senior Center board, which discussed the plan Tuesday with May, indicated that it would like to be prepared for 24-7 shelters, which would mean receiving assistance from the Red Cross for food and drink, and having storage space for cots or air mattresses.

“That will be a local decision,” May said, “though we want to be in on it because it would fall under our liability. And you’d have to bring in the Red Cross. But turn your stations into overnight shelters if need be.”

Tom Kilbane, a Senior Center board member, said that with the center doing a building remodel soon it will be able to “do more than what the county is suggesting. We could open on our own with our own volunteers.”

May said that wouldn’t be a problem as along as there is communication with the agency and there is liability for the volunteers.

Sheila Curwen, another board member, suggested that the facility should eventually serve only the Winslow area with other warming stations at locations such as Island Center, Wilkes Elementary School, Lynwood Center and Seabold Hall.

City Council member Bill Knobloch, who attended Tuesday’s KCDEM meeting in Port Orchard, was impressed with the agency’s plan to be a communications hub when there’s a need for emergency planning. “All we need to do is to make sure we are on the same page with the county,” he said.

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