As Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have devastated Texas and Florida and while Jose looms in the Atlantic, Sen. Jack Reed stopped by Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency in Cranston on Friday to discuss the state’s preparedness if such a system should move this way.
After Reed met with Director Peter Gaynor, they held a short press availability to give an overview of their meeting and the importance of being proactive in getting ready for a storm to strike.
“We have to be prepared because the hurricane season goes until Nov. 30,” Reed said. “So we have many weeks left to go where we’re possibly in jeopardy of a hurricane…One of the points we made in the meeting was developing plans, exercising those plans, [and] actually seeing if it works in practice is absolutely critical.”
Reed also noted $7 million in federal grants given to the state last week that will provide additional resources for the planning process. Gaynor said the money came from the Emergency Management Performance Grant and State Homeland Security Grant.
The former will go towards operations at RIEMA, while the latter will go toward homeland security initiatives. He said there are a “host of different projects that money can be used for.”
As storm surges pound the Florida coast, Gaynor addressed the evacuation plan for shoreline communities in Rhode Island. He said that, while there is a plan in place to avoid clogging highways in the event of a major storm, it is vital for residents to know if they are in an area of high risk.
“It takes clear orders from government, about what the risk is and what we want you to do,” Gaynor said. “We have a very detailed plan, it’s called the hurricane evacuation study. We built it with our partners from FEMA and [U.S. Army] Corps of Engineers, down to the streets. Not every storm is equal, [but] we want to make sure we have minimal impact to the economy and people’s lives.
“We’re ready to issue the orders to evacuate no matter the circumstances.”
Reed said that if the state tells Rhode Islanders to evacuate, they should take the order seriously. According to NBC News, half of hurricane-related deaths over the past 50 years have been caused by storm surges, which cause coastal flooding.
“If there is a call to evacuate, it has to be followed,” Reed said. “People at home should have kits for survival, flashlights and batteries, and then a communication plan with their families and others so they are ready for it. We know with flood surges, with warming temperatures in the ocean, these incidents will become more critical, so we have to think about how to mitigate damage from hurricanes.”
He said being ready ahead of time can help the state be “efficient” ahead of a hurricane.
“We have to put the money in ahead of the crisis, not later,” Reed said.