By MARTHA SMITH
Special to the Standard
EXETER – When a major weather event is on the way, residents receive constant advisories via computer, TV and radio, but what about the animals housed at the town’s shelter on South County Trail?
Who’s looking out for their safety?
As it happens, in another example of inter-departmental teamwork, Stefan Coutoulakis and Steve Mattscheck – directors, respectively, of emergency management and public works/the shelter – have put their heads together over this very topic. They have arrived at a plan adapted from one used in coastal Louisiana.
“We’ve been throwing ideas around,” says Coutoulakis, who is a federal disaster consultant. “I reached out to one of my Homeland Security colleagues in Jefferson Parrish, La., and he sent me their evacuation plan which we’re customizing” for use in Exeter.
“We tweaked it,” adds Mattscheck, who notes that a key element to making an evacuation plan work is having a mutual-aid pact with shelters in other communities because, in the event of a hurricane, everybody wants to move inland.
“It’s the main thing we lack,” he says of a multi-town agreement. “Transport is also a huge issue. Our equipment is always tasked beyond its capabilities.”
In Jefferson Parrish, animal control workers have access to a low bed truck with built-in cages. Exeter has the cat-transport question settled but removing dogs may prove trickier.
“We can put cats into carriers and then into the [animal control] van,” Mattscheck says, noting that figuring out what sort of vehicle would accommodate large cages with dogs remains unanswered.
He and Coutoulakis agree that the template they’re using calls for the shelter to be completely vacated 72 hours before the predicted landfall of a hurricane.
The final component to the plan is communication: Unlike West Greenwich animal control, which has radio transmission because its work falls under police department supervision, Exeter’s van has no radio.
That problem is about to be remedied.
Acting under a federal mandate, this year’s financial town meeting approved a plan to upgrade the existing radio system to narrow-band. Mattscheck says 14 existing radios will be replaced with three of them installed in DPW trucks and one in the animal control van.
Mattscheck says completion of the plan is pending. “I’m talking to administrators of other town shelters” to form an alliance.