I have had a number of questions about the extreme cold. Please see the note below from our emergency management director. Please feel free to share this information far and wide.
You mentioned that you are receiving calls about opening shelters. I want to ask you what kind of questions are being asked of you: Is this from people who are in need, or are the questions out of concern for what could happen? Below is my reply about what we will do if something does happen:
City and County emergency management met on Friday with Community Services, Salvation Army, Police, MSP, Sheriff’s Office, and discussed our response. American Red Cross will no longer open warming shelters, unless requested as a response by the City, County, or other partner agency. (Too few people will go to a shelter and will elect to stay in their own home.) Since we don’t have an option for a general shelter, we discussed other options, and develop a two-tier response:
First level – Homeless and other individuals in need will be provided shelter at Doris Day, or Salvation Army. If full, or if it is inappropriate to get temporary housing at Salvation Army (such as, a family who lost heating), they will be given vouchers for hotels. The vouchers will be a final solution, as the Salvation Army funds this benefit, and we don’t want to open advertise this option. Rochester Police and Olmsted County SO, as well as Interfaith Hospitality will hand out the vouchers. (The voucher system is already in place, and used by RPD for assisting residents).
Second level – Often, disasters are not caused by a single hazard, such as this severe cold weather and wind chill warning. It is a combination of three things happening in succession that makes some emergencies turn into disasters. What would we do in a power outage? In discussions with RPU, all outages will be monitored for extent and duration. Emergency crews will work on restoring power, and if there will be a significant delay, the EOC will fully activate and Red Cross will be asked to open shelters. There are many factors at play, and a clear set of triggers are not available. We will monitor, assess, decide, and repeat.
In summary, warming shelters sound like a good thing to do, and history reveals they are not utilized – hence a needless tax on our volunteer resources. However, if there is a second or third-tier emergency, that changes the normal response, and a full-out disaster response effort is mounted that will include community shelters.
I feel the talking points for media inquiries, your constituents, and other interested parties include the following:
1. There is a problem with the predicted cold weather and brutal wind chills.
2. At this time, city agencies (Police, Sheriff, Fire, Public Works) are prepared to assist those in need. This includes assistance for those experiencing a crisis, and includes helping them find shelter from the cold.
3. The City and County care about residents and travelers, and have prepared contingency plans in case of a second, or third threat or hazard (such as a power outage on top of the severe cold).
4. We are listening to Community Services and volunteer agencies who regularly provide assistance, and if unusual situations occur, a coordinated effort will be managed through the emergency management system. RPU will keep in touch and keep us informed of outages and how quickly they will be resolved. We are working together and not waiting for something bad to happen.
If you receive calls for assistance, individual cases can be sent to 911 (or 911 non-emergency line at 328-6800). However, if an unusual situation happens, you can call the EOC Duty Officer at 328-2111 (24/7) for more action.
I hope you don’t mind if I share this with others. It was a great question, and I think others will benefit from the response to your question.
Ken Jones, City of Rochester Emergency Management