Bainbridge: It’s cold out there

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Island looks at residents’ well-being in light of past storms.

The cold snap shows no signs of breaking soon with freezing temperatures and snow in the forecast through Friday.

While the spell has so far not knocked out power around the island, it has brought back some issues that were raised during the last major winter storm and has highlighted the continued need for outreach to the most vulnerable in the community.

In 2006, a massive winter storm knocked out power to much of the island and some locations went without power for over a week.

A study by members of the Bainbridge Island Senior Center found that many of the island’s independent seniors, rehabilitation centers and elder home facilities had some level of difficulty relating to the 2006 storm.

“We wanted to see how our community fared,” said Joan Treacy, vice president of the Senior Center boad and a co-author of the report. “We had heard from some individuals in the community who were worried about what would happen during another major storm.”

While the report lauded the dedicated work of staffers at island facilities during the power outage, some of whom stayed on hand 24 hours a day, it also made apparent the need for better preparation and a more efficient way for emergency crews to monitor those most in need.

The report also found that many seniors who lived on their own, and even those in communal facilities, lacked sufficient information relating to the storm or rallying points. Instead, most relied on word of mouth for updates related to outages and warming areas.

“There isn’t a place designated for individuals who are elderly to go for warm meals,” Treacy said. “People did come to the senior center, but we didn’t have a way to heat the building at the time. Now we have a fireplace at least, but there is still a need for more generators or more capacity to heat elder facilities in case of emergencies.”

Island’s elder facilities have made upgrades relating to the lessons learned during the 2006 storm to allow them to be more self-sufficient during winter.

“We haven’t lost power yet, which is a big difference between this storm and 2006,” said Ron Fenner, manager of the Madison Avenue Retirement Center. “Since then we added more supplies to emergency kits and we modified our emergency generator system so we can have additional heat during power outages.”

The 2006 storm also showed a gap in planning for the evacuation of vulnerable adults who would need continued support during a power outage or significant disaster – a difficulty that is still being addressed today.

“That’s the million dollar question,” Fenner said. “There is no comprehensive plan in place to evacuate people. The problem we have is that in most emergencies hotels are used as backfill, but we need health care and a hotel doesn’t do our residents any good.”

Many of those questions have been reviewed by the city, independent elder facilities and Kitsap County Department of Emergency Management (KCDEM). According to city spokesperson Cathie Currie, many homes have begun implementing their own emergency response plans.

Emergency efforts in the community are also becoming more consistent. During the 2006 storm, elder facilities were fairly isolated, according to the report. However, some of the island’s emergency response teams did check in on elder facilities and delivered blankets when called.

Although the chill will continue this week, it is not likely to become the rehash of the windy 2006 storm. Plus, emergency crews are ready when needed.

On Monday, KCDEM set up a centralized Kitsap shelter to deal with victims of cold weather. They opened a severe-weather shelter at President’s Hall at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds, where warmth and shelter are being provided from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. throughout the cold spell.

According to Phyllis Mann, director of KCDEM, there are no dedicated services for Bainbridge at the moment, but said that the Red Cross is on hand to set up warming centers if the weather takes a turn for the worse this week. Mann also said that being smart and self-sufficient is the easiest way to ensure staying safe and warm this winter.

“People don’t like to leave home unless they have to,” Mann said. “A lot of people (during the 2006 storm) didn’t realize a lot of the downtown areas were still open – that there are lots of places to stay warm such as stores and coffee shops. Sometimes survival is as easy as getting out, looking around and seeing who has the lights on.”

But for those seniors who can’t make it outside or who are in assisted-living situations, some still see a need to coordinate and ensure a comprehensive evacuation approach.

“A lot of these apartments downtown are full of seniors,” Fenner said. “If they lost power and it’s really cold, we could be in big trouble.”

Warming trends

According to the Kitsap County Department of Emergency Management the biggest problems due to winter storms include loss of heat, power and telephone service; and a shortage of supplies. The key to surviving winter weather is to be prepared for it. When a blizzard or ice storm hits, be prepared to stay home and ride out the storm for several days. Here are some tips for staying warm and safe this winter:

If you have to travel icy roads, make sure someone knows where you are going, carry emergency supplies in your car and if you get stuck leave a window cracked.

Wear several layers of warm, loose fitting clothes.

Conserve fuel; close off rooms that do not need to be heated. If using an alternate heat source make sure it is in a well ventilated area.

Keep a supply of drinking water on hand and high calorie, non-perishable foods that can be eaten without being cooked.

In an emergency situation, residents can check the city’s website or call the city’s emergency update phone at 842-7633 for information on shelters and other emergency response tips.

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