Rhode Island Disaster Preparedness – Part II


The number of natural disasters is growing globally and in the US – in an emergency, being adequately prepared can make the difference between life and death

This is the second part of a two-article series on the risk related to natural disasters in Rhode Island. For the first part, click here.

According to recent estimates by CoreLogic, a real estate data firm, Rhode Island has the second-highest score in a ranking of the risk of property damage and loss from natural hazards. Only Florida is at a greater risk to suffer from natural disasters (https://pbn.com/RI-No-2-in-ranking-of-states-at-highest-property-damage-risk,99874/). Last week’s blog showed that the number of catastrophic hurricanes has increased greatly in the last two decades. This week, we will consider examples of two other natural phenomena that proved to have had disastrous potential in the past. We will also offer some practical suggestions on how to be prepared and how to act when a disaster strikes.

Snowstorms and Blizzards

New England’s humid continental climate is notorious for being unpredictable and prone to rapid changes. A popular saying goes: If you don’t like the weather just wait 10 minutes, and it does seem to capture some truth about the regional climate. The rapid changes of weather are perhaps especially noticeable in winter. Although winters in Rhode Island are typically short with a moderate amount of snowfall, the conditions can go from mild to violent in the span of just a couple hours. Phenomena such as strong winds, snowfall, and extreme cold can sometimes reach disastrous intensity. Such was the case of the Nor’easter of December 1960.

Nor’easters are a type of cyclone, and the one that hit coastal New England in December of 1960 brought snowfall of up to 21 inches and gusts of wind reaching speeds of 90mph. Various accidents related to severe weather conditions brought by the cyclone are thought to have caused over 200 deaths. Additionally, in Rhode Island, some towns were left without electricity.

The Deadliest Disaster in New England History

Even though the disasters already mentioned in this and last week’s blog posts brought about a tragic loss of many lives and – in case of the hurricanes – the greatest financial damage to New England and Rhode Island, neither of them were the deadliest. This infamous trophy belongs to the heat wave of 1911.

Summers in New England are typically warm to hot. In Providence, Rhode Island, average high temperature in July and August – the two hottest months – reach about 80°F. However, on Saturday, July 1, 1911, temperatures across New England were nearing 90º. The next day, they reached almost 100º. The record temperature registered that summer in New England was a whopping 106º. The heat wave lasted almost half a month. It is difficult to exactly estimate how many people died as a result of the unbearable heat. However, as can be inferred from death certificates, in the year 1911, the overall death toll in New England exceeded the average for the month of July by 2,000.

Be Prepared

A catastrophic event of the same or even greater scale and intensity as the natural disasters mentioned in this series of blog posts is likely to happen again in the months or years to come. The importance of being adequately prepared cannot be overestimated. When a disaster strikes, appropriate preparation can make the difference between life and death. Of course, it may be difficult to be prepared for every kind of emergency situation. Nevertheless, taking a few simple precautions right now can become an invaluable advantage in case the need arises for evacuation or rescue. What then, are some practical steps one can take to prepare oneself and their family for a disaster?

Prepare Emergency Supplies

As shown by the most recent events, as well as many catastrophes from the past, when a disaster strikes, infrastructure, and especially electricity, ceases to become reliable. No electricity often entails no network coverage and failing transportation services. This also means that one’s ability to get the essential supplies like food and water become limited. Also, in the case of heavy rains and flooding, there may be shortages of water and the water from the tap might no longer be suitable for drinking. Evidently, then, the importance of having a small, portable stock of the essential supplies is of utmost importance. What should your emergency supplies stock include? Here are some suggestions:

  • at least 1 gallon of water per a family member per day
  • at least three-days supply of imperishable food and dry goods
  • first aid kit
  • waterproof matches
  • basic toiletries – soap, toothbrush, toilet paper
  • blankets, a set of warm clothes, durable footwear
  • credit cards and cash

It is important to remember to keep food protected and in a cool, dry place. Stored food and water supplies need to be changed every six months. It is also recommended to check your disaster kit twice a year. Moreover, car owner should keep the tanks of their vehicles at least half-full at all times. More ideas for items that can come in handy in the aftermath of a natural disaster in Rhode Island can be found on the webpage of the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency.

Make an Emergency Plan

When a disaster strikes, one needs to take action quickly. Families need to act in a coordinated way. It is advisable that each family creates and acts out their own emergency plan. Before making such a plan, a family needs to research local government recommendations of how to proceed in case of a natural disaster. The plan will also help families to communicate effectively should some members become separated during an emergency. It may include a meeting place where everyone can go if the family is separated. It should also contain an emergency contact list with telephone numbers of friends or distant family member who live out of state. This is practical because making a non-local call after an emergency may be easier as the local network will probably be overloaded.

Cooperate With Authorities and Stay Informed

After the initial phase of a disaster or emergency situation, there still may be a risk of other catastrophic events. Thus, by staying informed and cooperating with the authorities, one increases their chances of going through the disaster with as little personal damage as possible. As stated on the website of the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency: In Rhode Island, the decision about whether to evacuate is made by local officials. If the authorities in your town or county make the decision to order evacuations, do not hesitate to cooperate and leave the area at risk. Any potential property damage is far less important than the health and life of you and your family.