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Ref: Vermont assisted living group helps with emergency preparedness

Rutland Herald

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Historic storm generates back-up concerns




July 16, 2007
By Sarah Hinckley Herald Staff

When the electricity went out at the Bardwell House during April's historic storm, resident Jessica Butterfield, who is confined to an electric wheelchair, wondered whether the chair battery would die before power returned.

There is not a generator at the apartment building on Merchants Row, and Butterfield can not power a manual chair, she told a group at a recent Vermont Center for Independent Living (VCIL) gathering. For nine hours she had to conserve mobility and had to rely on a friend who also lives in the building.

"Emergencies can happen at any time, anywhere," said Rutland City Fire Department Chief Robert Schlachter, who also is the city's emergency management director. "Every time you have an emergency, no matter how good your plan is, you always learn something new from it."

Addressing issues surrounding emergency preparedness was the reason for the meeting at the hospital at the end of June. VCIL is a nonprofit organization with offices in Bennington, Chittenden and Windham counties that has been working on emergency planning issues since 2001. Representatives from the governor's office, the Department of Health, the Rutland City and Rutland Town fire departments, American Red Cross, Rutland Area Visiting Nurses and The Bus also attended the meeting.

One thing the city learned during April's destructive storm was that there is a lack of facilities with generators. Approximately 50,000 Vermonters, including 90 percent of Rutland's residents, were without power during the storm.

"Since the storm, it's been a really hot topic," said Schlachter during an interview at his office later. As part of the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC), he and other officials have been researching facility or generator options. "It would be great to have a generator at every major shelter facility," he said.

Some places, such as nursing homes, hospitals and correctional facilities, are required to have a generator. Rutland Regional Medical Center was identified as a usable shelter during the April storm, but it would be great to have the city's schools set up as shelters, Schlachter said.

"To my knowledge none of our schools have generator capability," he said, adding that schools make ideal shelters because they have restrooms, kitchens, room for boarding and additional rooms for activities, if necessary.

And, he argued, installing fixed generators in buildings can be costly. Replacing the 35 year-old unit at the fire station recently carried a price tag of $32,000, which was paid for with grants, he said, adding that wiring a building to receive a generator is a more practical option and less expensive.

A fixed generator becomes useless if it is in a building in a disaster zone, Schlachter said. The fire department is looking into a trailer-mounted generator that could be transported to a wired site.

"It's a matter of who's going to pay for the generator," said Schlachter, who said he is looking into grants for help with a future purchase. "We know we have shelters we'd like to have more shelters with capability for emergency power."

Contact Sarah Hinckley at sarah.hinckley@rutlandherald.com.

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