We hear, or read, in the marine forecast that the wind is “gusting to 45 at the buoy, with 19-foot seas every 11 seconds.” What does that mean for daily life, if you aren’t out to sea in a fishing boat?

To me, it hopefully means I can stay home and put another stick on the fire. But it also may mean there is no way off this remote island for somebody who is sick. It probably means there will be no repair parts coming if something is broken, no appointments kept, no groceries delivered, and no mail.

Like cities and counties, every little town is supposed to have its own trained Emergency Management Director, and even though there isn’t really much “directing” to be done on the isle of Matinicus, I am this community’s designated representative to the table at Knox County Emergency Management. Once a month, weather permitting, I meet for a couple of hours with the others and learn a little bit more about how to interact with the arcane world of MEMA, FEMA, and the Incident Command System. We decode more acronyms in the average meeting than a bowl of alphabet soup AND a software engineering technical bulletin could produce together. 

One thing we as emergency management professionals (or, in my case, part-time volunteers) are urged to do is make sure there are mechanisms in place to warn citizens about upcoming hazardous weather. The assumption is that every community has large groups of residents who have no idea what is about to happen when the storms brew.

That is not our problem on Matinicus Island. When the wind blows, islanders are unlikely to be surprised. 

But because the assumption is that we have many helpless citizens to shepherd, emergency management folks are encouraged to become — if they aren’t already — weather geeks. Before we had multiple online devices and six kinds of radio all tuned to various marine and aviation forecasts, I mostly paid attention to the offshore weather for “25 miles to the Hague Line.” When our kids were growing up on this island, before the ubiquitous Internet, children had strict orders to keep quiet during the 6 o’clock news. “Sssh! The weather’s on!” was a common scolding heard around this house. Since getting involved with EMA, and Hurricane School at the National Hurricane Center, and recently becoming a licensed pilot, I am slipping toward becoming that weather geek. Just the same, I could learn a lot from the fishermen. They don’t need me to tell them when a storm’s on its way.

 


Is there anything an EM director can advise an islander, since those particular citizens don’t usually need to be told about the weather (and they are often ahead of the game in terms of backup heat, generators, flashlight batteries, spare food, etc.)? There is something less well known: It would be helpful if everybody would document everything they do while helping out in an emergency, volunteering, or assisting with power outages, snow removal, local road maintenance or storm cleanup. Document your hours of work, but also the tools and vehicles used — and the hours they are used — as there is a standard reimbursement rate schedule for everything from a bucket truck to a wheelbarrow. This total dollar-equivalent amount “volunteered” can sometimes be used by your town as part of its required match for grant funding and similar financial assistance. Everything helps — but it only counts if somebody writes it down.

Also, before you go pulling trees out of the street, let your local emergency management director or town office know what you’ll be helping with in the storm or emergency (this idea must seem astonishing, even absurd, to any city official!). If advised ahead of time that you’ll be part of the crew, the EMD can “call in” and get your name on a list, resulting in State worker’s compensation coverage for you should you get hurt while assisting. This cannot be done after the fact; you have to set it up before you start work. Many islanders pitch in to clear branches and do other tasks that a larger city would leave to a public works department. Paid or not, it’s best to stay in touch with your municipal officials and make sure somebody knows you’re out there.

We just wish the TV news weathermen would do us islanders one favor: Stop focusing entirely on the weather “vertically,” up and down, as in “how much of what is going to fall out of the sky?” Unlike the commuters in Portland, that doesn’t impact our lives — as mariners, as pilots, and as people dependent upon mariners and pilots for all our other work — as greatly as does the weather “horizontally,” meaning “how hard will the wind blow, and from which direction?”