Colonial Beach Town Council continued to work on the town’s emergency shelter and disaster preparedness plan. Council Member Jim Chiarello brought in Ruth Lovelace, Director of Emergency Management and Safety for the University of Mary Washington. She works with the American Red Cross during large scale emergencies.
Lovelace offered her expertise to help the town update their emergency manual prior to the mandatory Sept. 2014 state deadline. Virginia has certain templates that all localities in the commonwealth must follow for emergency situations. The state is working toward having a unified way to do things during a disaster to make it easier when emergencies strike.
According to Lovelace, the town’s emergency manual is out of date, and she cautioned this is the first thing a federal agency wants to see in the event of a disaster.
She encouraged the town to work toward getting the town high school set up to be a shelter as the Town Center would be used for town operations during the time a shelter would be needed. Lovelace also said that during the most likely disaster scenario, residents would account for close to 80 percent of the threatened population of Westmoreland County. This is due to the coastal nature of the town and population density being much greater than the rest of the county.
Mayor Mike Ham said the town needs to convince Westmoreland officials that one of the county shelters should be within the town. Right now the two shelters are at Washington District Elementary and Washington and Lee High School. During a hurricane or any othe rkind of flooding situation, Mattox Creek will often flood, blocking town, and some county residents, from reaching the county shelters.
On the other side of town, by Wilkerson’s Seafood, Tide Mill Pond Bridge, and the road leading to it, are also frequent victims of flooding which further traps residents. In August of 2011, following Tropical Storm Lee, massive amounts of rain fell in a very short time.
The flooding, and damage in the aftermath, effectively left town residents cut off from Westmoreland County. For several days, following the waters receding, there was one secondary road that allowed anyone in or out of the area.
Lovelace said MWU have multiple generators that they rent out for emergency situations. The town added that to the list of possible power solutions for future generator needs. At this time the high school does not have a transfer switch needed to operate a generator, but was working on getting bids for the switch and its installation.