If there's a big storm coming, head to East Providence.
That's the message town manager Jim Cunha wants to share with Barrington residents. According to Mr. Cunha, the state's emergency management agency recently regionalized all the emergency shelters in Rhode Island and officials are now directing all Barrington residents to use East Providence High School as an emergency shelter.
"It's a huge facility," said Mr. Cunha.
In years past, Barrington residents were told to use Primrose Hill School as the primary emergency shelter — it was one of the few public buildings located above the flood plain. But this year, state officials reorganized the system of supported shelters and opted to use East Providence High School as a regional facility.
"Primrose Hill School will not be opened as a shelter," said Mr. Cunha. "We can't support it without state support."
Interest in emergency shelters in Rhode Island and across New England has increased following the devastating effects of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Harvey's heavy rains flooded portions of Texas, while strong winds and storm surge left more than 6 million Florida residents without electricity.
Mr. Cunha said he wants Barrington residents to be prepared in the case a hurricane — or blizzard during the winter months — impacts Rhode Island.
"If we had a category three or four hurricane here, we would become a town of a thousand islands," he said. As a low-lying coastal community, Barrington, he said, is easy target for flooding.
"The hope would be that people would evacuate before any flooding occurs," he added.
The manager explained some of the logic with the state's decision to relocate the emergency shelter out of Barrington and into the center of East Providence. He said that Primrose Hill School or any other public building in Barrington would be hard to reach or exit in the case of a flood.
"The town hall… we're high enough here, but we'd become an island," he said.
Mr. Cunha said he recently met with the town's fire chief, police chief and director for the department of public works to discuss Barrington's preparedness for a hard-hitting storm. Fire Chief Gerald Bessette now also serves as the town's emergency management director.
"I think we're in an OK place right now," said Mr. Cunha, "and we're getting better. Like all communities, my biggest concern is that the public take things seriously."
Mr. Cunha said that while the town has not been hit by a powerful hurricane in recent years, the floods of March 2010 offered a glimpse of the troubles locals could face from flooding.
"There are problems because of the topography… Barrington's topography is the worst (in the state)," he said.