Officials look to improve access to emergency shelters in N.S., inform residents

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NORTH SMITHFIELD – With unpredictable storms, from fall hurricanes to abundant winter snow fall, power outages happen often in New England, and it’s not uncommon for locals to find themselves in the dark for several days following severe weather.

Town Council President John Beauregard says that’s why he’s working to increase awareness and accessibility to safe, warm shelters in North Smithfield.

North Smithfield High School is the shelter location currently recommended by the town’s emergency management agency, but Beauregard noted that most residents are not aware it exists to fulfill their immediate needs when the power is down.

The council president noted that the shelter is available to those who have lost power and are in need of a shower, a warm meal or a safe place to sleep until their service is restored.

“Nobody knows about it,” Beauregard said during discussion of the effort at the council’s meeting on Monday. Nov. 1.

“I asked for this to be put on the agenda as a result of the nor’easter we just had, thinking, if this had been a couple months later, then it could have been a really nasty storm,” he said. “A lot of people could have lost power, and they wouldn’t know where to go.”

In fact, an internet search for emergency shelters in North Smithfield does pull up the location at 412 Greenville Road, but states, “do not report to any shelter unless advised by the local media.” Links from the North Smithfield Emergency Management Agency still list the school as “North Smithfield Junior/Senior High School,” although the neighboring middle school has been open for more than a decade.

Beauregard said he has discussed the issue at length with School Committee Chairman James Lombardi, and also plans to work with NSEMA. The official location, he said, will be either the high school or the middle school, and the information will soon be promoted to ensure residents know where to go when an outage leaves them in need.

“It is technically there, but we’re going to make it official, and make sure everybody knows about it,” he said.

“It’s a matter of publicizing it,” said Councilor Paul Vadenais, noting that the recent renovation of the Kendall Dean building, which now serves as Town Hall, included establishment of the council chambers as a potential warm and safe shelter.

“The good part about it being at the high school or the middle school is they could take a shower,” Beauregard said.

Beauregard emphasized that the location will be strictly for North Smithfield residents experiencing a short-term weather-related emergency, not open as a place for the general public to find housing.

“It’s for town residents who lose power and are in need of shelter for a short period of time,” he said. “We want to make sure that everybody’s aware that we have a shelter.”

The council took no action on the issue at the meeting, and Beauregard said that more information on the initiative will be coming soon.

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