By LINDSAY OLIVIER
EXETER – If a natural disaster hit, would you know the evacuation route or what resources were available to you within town?
The role of the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency (RIEMA) has been to protect life and property in the event of a natural and technical disaster or crisis situation, including fires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, winter storms, chemical releases and weapons of mass destruction and terrorism incidents.
It’s all executed through a variety of programs aimed to educate the importance of mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. In order to follow through on this mission, the state relies on local cities’ and towns’ EMA directors to develop, maintain and update their own Emergency Disaster Plans under the guidelines of the State and Federal Response Plans.
Appointed last September, Exeter’s EMA Director and retired East Greenwich Fire Captain, Stefan Coutoulakis has big plans for Exeter to make sure the town and its residents are prepared when an event arises.
“Former director Scott Kettelle did a great job bringing me up to speed on what he’d done in town. But little did I know all the work that was going to be expected of me,” he said.
Coutoulakis’ first order of business was updating the town’s Emergency Operation Plan, a thick booklet that is the “master plan” in the event of an emergency. The plan hasn’t been updated since 2006 and needs to be updated every four years as required by the state.
He’s also working on updating the Hazard Mitigation Plan, which identifies known and potential hazards in town. A prime example was the March 2010 flooding. Those streets which flooded out are identified in the plan, so in the event of massive rainfall or a hurricane, Coutoulakis would be able to identify those problem areas and notify residents.
Soon after taking the position, Coutoulakis found that he wasn’t accomplishing as much as he wanted to so, last month, the Exeter Town Council appointed East Greenwich resident, Andrew Treat as EMA Assistant Director. Treat brings a vast amount of experience because he’s been a volunteer with Exeter Volunteer Fire Company #1, an EMT with Exeter Rescue and a fill-in dispatcher. He’s knowledgeable in communications, radios and laptops. Though not an Exeter resident, he’s more involved and knows more about Exeter than his hometown.
“While working in dispatch, I became familiar with Stefan and what he was doing and I liked it,” said Treat.
“His enthusiasm and ambition will be a welcome addition to our growing division,” said Coutoulakis.
Treat wasted no time and has already embarked on huge projects. Coutoulakis purchased five Global Positioning Systems (GPS), to be used for search and rescue operations by Exeter rescue and fire fighters. Last week, Treat held a training session where 18 members turned out.
“The drill went excellently. I was extremely happy with the turn-out and we’re going to be holding a second session in the next week or so,” Treat said.
The drill began with class time to get members familiar with how the unit works and then they were taken to the former Ladd School property where they were given specific coordinates and had to use the GPS to find specific markers.
“It’s vital we have these units and everyone knows how to use them, especially with the Arcadia Management area in town,” said Treat. “There have been numerous incidents of hikers getting lost and if that should happen again, first responders would have the ability to find them, using coordinates from 911,” added Coutoulakis.
Coutoulakis credits the staff at the Exeter Town Hall for their efforts as everyone has voluntarily completed the Point of Distribution (POD) training and has been keeping excellent records regarding the floods, making it easier for Coutoulakis and Treat to find answers to any questions that arise.
The two are also working to obtain a pair of smartphones, which would allow them to access the internet in the event the town loses power. They would be able to get weather updates and have an internet connection, which would be vital in communicating with the state.
Coutoulakis is also engaging local residents and informing them of impending warnings of inclement weather and upcoming events by sending out notifications via an email list serve.
With the possibility of Hurricane Irene affecting the Northeast coast this weekend, Coutoulakis began sending emails to residents with the latest updated information and assuring residents that he and Treat are keeping a close eye on the predictions. In addition, Coutoulakis has been forwarding information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
“We want the residents of Exeter to take comfort in knowing myself and Andrew are working to make sure everyone is informed and kept safe during any event that would affect the town,” he said.
If you’d like to subscribe to Coutoulakis’s email, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org .