PITTSFIELD, Mass. — If an emergency event is so large that local shelters are overwhelmed, Berkshire Community College and Chimney Corners are both eyed to be hosts of massive regional shelters.
Eammon Coughlin of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission has been working on specific plans for those situations. Now, he is in the process of crafting memorandum of agreements with the college and the Chimney Corners Camp in Becket establishing those as the regional sites.
He's also working out a cost-sharing agreement among the 12 central Berkshire County towns to pay for the operations.
"They are only intended to be used as a last resort," Coughlin told the Central Berkshire Regional Emergency Planning Committee on Wednesday morning.
The regional shelter does not replace existing local shelters. Local emergency managers and town leaders would be called on to make the decision whether to close a local shelter and send residents to one of the regional shelters. Pittsfield and participating towns will be billed based on the number of residents using the shelter. For those nonresidents who may need the shelter, the cost would be split among all of the towns using the regional shelter.
"It's about $25 per person per day," he said.
The shelter would be manned by volunteers and through mutual aid agreements among emergency organizations. The cost is estimated based on food and supplies.
"I think that would be equitable," commission Chairman and Pittsfield Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski said. "If we had to open a shelter, we'll pay our share. But, I think there is going to be push back from some people."
Lenox Fire Chief Dan Clifford questioned how the costs would be divided if there was an event at Tanglewood with a number of visitors — which town would those be attributed to? He felt that portion of the cost-sharing agreement would need to be fleshed out more.
The CBREPC kicked around the idea of assessing communities for a few years ahead of time and then keeping money to operate the shelter in reserve.
But, ultimately, the group figured the likelihood of a regional shelter being opened is fairly low and towns will want the money back if it goes unspent over a period of time. Further, the event triggering opening a regional shelter would have to be so large and requiring multiple days of service that towns would likely receive federal reimbursement.
Lt. Col. Thomas Grady of the Berkshire County sheriff's office added that during such a multiday emergency, most residents become self-sufficient and stay with family or friends.
"Even with the tornadoes, we didn't see massive amount of people looking for shelter," he said.
Nonetheless, the plans are nearly complete for the scenario in which a regional shelter would serve the area better than each town operating its own individual shelter. Coughlin is also working on plans for South and North County.
"Many of the local shelters are small with space for less than 30 people," he said.
Coughlin performed an assessment of both Central County locations. Between 250 and 300 people can be sheltered at BCC's Patterson Field House; it is close to the downtown area, there is space for pets, shower and bathroom facilities, and flexible areas to turn into a command center or child care area. However, the field house isn't that close to the existing dining facilities and food or people would have to be transported back and forth.
But, more importantly, the field house doesn't have back up power. Coughlin said BCC officials will be urging the state to install an alternate power source if the agreement is made.
"If BCC is chosen as the site, we have to immediately address the backup power," he said.
More than 400 people can be sheltered at Chimney Corners camp. The is space for pets, backup power, flexible space and kitchen, shower and bathroom facilities.
But it is also more remote, is sprawling so needs "extensive staffing," has showers separate from the sheltering area, and would need "significant" traffic control measures in place. Further, during the summer there are more than a thousand campers there so the entire location could be off limits during those months.
Coughlin has also identified a number of resources available in the county that can be called on to establish the shelter. Those include cots, pillows, and blankets from the Western Massachusetts Homeland Security Council, a number of shelter trailers throughout the county, supplies from the local shelters that would be shut down in favor of the regional, and lights and message boards at the Berkshire County sheriff's office.
The next step is to inventory all of that and find if there are any gaps in equipment or supplies needed. He will also be looking to identify shelter group leaders who will be in charge of organizing a shelter if needed and keeping the plan up to date.
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