Local, State And Federal Officials Discuss Operation Of The City’s Shelters In The Event Of A Disaster

City, county, state and federal officials met recently at the Washington County Community College to discuss the operation of the city’s emergency shelters in the event of a disaster. The shelters are located on the WCCC campus. From left are: Police Chief David Randall, High School Principal Dan Cohnstaedt and City Manager Diane Barnes, all of Calais. (WCCC Photo)

CALAIS _ Federal, state and local officials are taking any threat of a disaster seriously and have begun meeting to talk about the city’s disaster plan including its emergency shelters.

Several years ago the city, working in tandem with the Washington County Community College under the direction of the Maine Red Cross, established not only a shelter on the WCCC campus for area residents, but also a shelter for pets. Faced with the possibility of having to leave their homes in the event of a disaster, people often are reluctant to abandon their pets so Calais, as part of its emergency preparedness plan, created the animal shelter.

“A few years ago, St. Croix Hall was designated as an emergency shelter should the need arise in the Calais area.” Scott Harriman, WCCC Associate Dean of Community Education and Student Affairs, said. The shelter can hold upwards of 130 people. The emergency animal shelter is located nearby at Howland Hall and is operated by PAWS, a non-profit, no-kill pet shelter located in Calais.

“PAWS representatives are here today. They have stepped up to be part of the ground- truth logistics of how that works,” said Robert Posick, Calais’ fire chief and emergency management director.

Living Downeast feels safe, but there always is a potential for something to happen. Hazardous chemicals and other dangerous materials regularly are trucked across the two international bridges that connect Calais with St. Stephen, New Brunswick. There also is the potential for weather-related disasters that could force people out of their homes and into shelters.

So preparation is crucial.

The recent exercise was organized in part by Posick. “As the emergency management director for the city of Calais, I did a lot of planning in putting this meeting together, the college has been outstanding in helping with this process,” he said.

Individuals met in three different groups, Posick said, and discussed opening and operating the shelters in the event of a disaster. “What I am looking for is the most efficient way and the most cost-effective way of opening the shelters,” he said.

Harriman said that city, county and state officials including PAWS stand ready to help. He said that about 20 people attended and included the Calais Fire and Police departments, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Border Patrol, the county’s emergency management director, the Maine National Guard, county and local officials, amateur radio operators and the Red Cross, among others.

During the exercise, Harriman said, they discussed everything from administration to logistics in the event of a disaster. “That is everything from eating to keeping people safe,” Harriman said. “We looked at things like ‘how do we communicate with the outside world,’ and ‘how do we keep people occupied,’ among other topics,” he said.

President William Cassidy applauded the efforts of all participating entities and indicated this is just another example of how Washington County area communities and agencies are collaborating on an endeavor to the benefit of all.

At the end of the exercise, Posick and Harriman said they were pleased with the success of the meeting.