Right before Waterford officials called all 300 people they had listed as requiring special needs, and asked them if they wanted a ride to the emergency shelter at East Lyme Middle School. All of them refused.
Yet just one day after the storm, when most of the town was out of power, avoidable crises began to pop up. People on breathing machines needed power to charge their batteries and others didn’t have medication, which began to strain Waterford’s efforts on other problems, like clearing the tree-covered roads.
“One of the lessons learned from that was we basically said we have to do better than this,” said Police Chief Murray Pendleton, who is also the town's director of emergency management. “Because the message isn’t getting across.”
So Pendleton went on the aggressive. Wednesday, he and other town officials gave a presentation to about 80 seniors in the on how seniors should handle emergencies as small and as common as a few days without power.
“(The town is) here to deal with the crises, and the emergencies, hands down,” Pendleton said. “But listen, you know what, if you can keep the batteries, and you can do this and that and you can take care of yourself for 24 hours, 48 hours; you probably avoided a crisis.”
Pendleton’s main focus of the presentation was for seniors to have a plan in case a natural disaster hits Waterford, and they were left without power for up to a week. Pendleton said if people don't talk about what they would do if there was a power outage, big problems can occur.
“People say, when we talk about this stuff, that they already know that,” Pendleton said. “But guess what, when the emergency comes, you forgot.”
One key aspect is to have an emergency kit, which has basics such as batteries, food, water and spare oxygen tanks if needed, Pendleton said. One of the problems during Irene was people ran out of medications, so Pendleton stressed for seniors to make sure they have enough of their medications to last for a few days ready before a storm hits.
He added that people should have an emergency kit for their pets as well, composed of food, a leash and a carrier, among other things. Pets are allowed at emergency shelters, but the owner is responsible to feed them and make sure they don't cause problems, Pendleton said.
Then Pendleton asked all the seniors to carry a card in their wallet or purse with the numbers of family members and doctors, and passed out cards to all the seniors. The police chief said many people don’t remember these numbers as they are plugged into a cell phone, and in a power outage that cell phone could die and then there is no way to contact loved ones.
He also gave out cards to seniors to fill out if they needed a ride to the emergency shelter. He said during Irene, many people said they could drive, but then after the storm hit they said while they could drive, they didn’t feel comfortable driving to East Lyme, and asked for a ride.
“There’s a whole segment who overlooked,” Pendleton said. “People who could drive, but can only drive so far.”
Pendleton stressed having some sort of evacuation plan, either by going to a family member’s house or going to an emergency shelter before the storm hits. The problem is after the storm hits, sometimes the roads are flooded or blocked with trees and then the nobody can reach a person at a blocked-in house, leaving that person stuck in their home without power for days.
Pendleton also stressed listening to the radio or signing up for the state’s , so they know when a storm is hitting. He told all the seniors in the room to sign up for the notification system Wednesday, which calls people when a natural disaster is expected or if a disaster strikes unexpectedly. The town has also set up an emergency management Facebook page to keep the public informed.
Most of all though, the key is discussing a plan with family members so if a hurricane does hit, there is a plan to follow, he said. Pendleton said one conversation can make everything smoother for oneself and one's loved ones.
“You have to talk about this,” Pendleton told the seniors. “That’s really high on the list. Everybody has to be in the loop.”
After the presentation, Pendleton said he wanted to do the presentation before hurricane season began, and he wanted to address seniors, which compose 30 percent of Waterford’s population. The chief also said he would do it again next year.
“I really care about this because I think it is something that can really bring a community together,” said Pendleton. “If we could get the sons and daughters to get together with their mothers and fathers, that’s not an unreasonable thing to expect.”