The Aquinnah Community Emergency Response Team: Bringing neighbors together for climate preparedness
In Aquinnah, our townspeople have been coming together over the past two years to strengthen our ability to respond to emergencies as a community. We recognize that our changing climate means that we will be facing more weather-related emergencies more frequently in the years to come, from hurricanes to winter storms to flooding and more, and we want to be ready to take care of ourselves, our families, and our neighbors.
Despite the gravity of the need for this kind of readiness, the work of our Community Emergency Response Team has felt positive, community-building, and fun. Coming together with neighbors to build skills and find ways to help take care of each other is joyful work.
We have been lucky to work under the mentorship of our town Emergency Manager, Gary Robinson. Every island town has an Emergency Manager, and I hope they all are as wonderful as Gary! Reaching out to that person is a great place to start organizing in your town around emergency preparedness.
How the CERT team began:
After connecting with Gary, we held a community meeting to get people together, talk about possible emergency response needs in our town, and start grouping those needs into categories. This was a wonderful gathering, bringing together a broad and diverse group of townspeople to share ideas (plus we served pizza, and offering food always helps!).
Through group brain storming, we classified needs into three categories: communications, training/education, and sheltering. Over time, we formed ourselves into a group called the Community Response Team, a classification under FEMA, but for us it means a group of neighbors working together for emergency preparedness.
We formed working groups under each of the three primary categories of need we’d identified:
Communications: This group is working on two fronts:
- Gathering information about who in town would like special support or to be checked in on during emergencies, and divvying up who on our CERT team will check in with each of those neighbors; and
- Distributing and training a small group of CERT members to be able to operate handheld radios, that work during communications and power failures and can strengthen coordination during emergencies between CERT members and town emergency personnel.
Sheltering: This team started by assessing existing sheltering options and in-town sheltering capacity, and then determined what we thought likely sheltering needs might be in an emergency.
We decided we wanted to make sure there was overnight sheltering for up to 90 people for up to 3 days, including places to sleep, food, and necessary supplies. The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head/Aquinnah has a recently-Red Cross certified shelter, and they offered to be the overnight sheltering place for any townspeople who needed it in an emergency.
This meant our Town Hall, which has limited space and supplies, could be a daytime “warming center”–not an officially certified shelter but a place people could come be warm, get something to eat, charge cell phones, etc.
The CERT Sheltering Committee came up with a list of needed food and other supplies for the warming center, and are working with the Tribe to coordinate materials for both the overnight shelter and warming center.
Training and Education:
Island-wide, we have a deep shortage of trained emergency services personnel, especially to meet the needs of our summer population if there were to be a hurricane or other major disaster during July and August. We wanted to build skills amongst our townspeople to help take care of each other in emergencies.
Gary has helped us organize a series of training, including First Aid, CPR, shelter volunteer training, and basic fire safety skills. These classes have been fun, hands-on, and popular. It feels good to build skills together in your town to help everyone take care of each other.
We hope you will consider joining our CERT team for future classes and workshops, and to start organizing in your own town to make sure all of our island emergency needs can be met now and in the future.