No Shelter From the Storm

    With changing weather patterns and violent storms becoming more frequent, Montauk residents are confused and concerned about where the hamlet’s emergency shelters are located. There were no shelters open in the easternmost hamlet during either Hurricane Sandy or the northeaster that followed a week later.
    The issue came up at a meeting of the Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee on Nov. 5, but there were no clear answers. Someone thought the Montauk Playhouse was no longer a designated shelter since it does not have its own generator, but a phone call to Bruce Bates, the East Hampton Town emergency preparedness coordinator, determined that indeed it is. A generator is not a prerequisite for a designated shelter, he said.
    In fact, the playhouse also takes in animals in the unfinished area where an aquatic center is expected to be built, said Diane Hausman, a former president of the Montauk Playhouse Community Center Foundation.
    Mr. Bates listed the primary shelters in Montauk as the Playhouse, the Montauk School, and the Montauk Downs. The Montauk Manor will take in the sick and infirm, he said, but only if they are registered with the East Hampton Town Human Resource Department, in which case they will receive a call, and if necessary the shelter will open.
    His department must assess the need for shelters before a storm begins, said Mr. Bates. “We want to complete all our movement before the gale force winds hit,” he said, advising that residents tune in to WLNG or watch LTV for information, or go to the town’s Web site, town.east-hampton.ny.us/.
    As for the lack of a Montauk shelter during the storms, Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said in a phone interview that the Red Cross did not have enough staff to man two shelters in the township, and chose East Hampton High School, which was near to the most people. The Montauk Playhouse is a designated Red Cross shelter, the supervisor noted, and that organization provides not only care but the necessary supplies, including a portable generator.
    Mr. Wilkinson said he had tried to get the playhouse opened during the hurricane and had asked for assistance from the Montauk Fire Department and its Ladies Auxiliary. He was disappointed, he said, with the response he received from Montauk Fire Chief Rich Schoen, who told him the department was unable to help. Mr. Wilkinson plans to convene a meeting of the Montauk Fire Department and the East Hampton Town Police Department to discuss how to handle the next big storm, he said.
    Chief Schoen said he’d told Mr. Wilkinson earlier that when the playhouse opened during Tropical Storm Irene, the only two qualified fire department volunteers sent to manage the shelter had no generator and about 60 people relying on them for help. “They were living on the edge. If they had to leave they would have been responsible for 60 people,” the chief said.
    He said he’d told the supervisor that in the future the Ladies Auxiliary would be happy to assist the Red Cross but would not take charge, “not on their own.”
    The Montauk Firehouse is also a shelter, but mainly for volunteers and their families.
    Jay Fruin, a member of the advisory committee, said after that meeting that in light of the recent storms and the ocean breach at Hither Hills, it would seem that a fully operational generator and other supplies should be permanently available at the playhouse.
    “In the event of a full breach and no power, our citizens should be able to rely on the playhouse for safety in a storm,” he said.
    Mr. Fruin also expressed concern about the power plant on the northern bank of Fort Pond. If power goes down in Montauk, he said, that would be the plant the hamlet could draw upon, unless, of course, it too was under water from an overflowing pond.
    “We need to be thinking of Montauk as an island,” he said. “The scenario is not too far-fetched. Let’s get some serious planning under way so we can have a shot at being ready.”