Portsmouth Council President Joe Robicheau responds to Sandy info concerns

Portsmouth Town Council President Joe Robicheau has responded to the questions I sent Thursday, after he sent me the same "Somali piracy" letter to the editor already posted on Patch. Since my guess was that the more pressing issue on most residents's minds was the approach of Sandy, I asked the following questions:

  1. Why are you sending non-time-sensitive political letters today, instead of communicating to residents of Portsmouth about the impending storm?
  2. What steps have you, as Town Council President, taken to address the problems in communication and organization that happened in the run up to Irene last year?
  3. Middletown is posting storm updates on their home page and Facebook (compare Middletown's home page to Portsmouth's -- attached) -- why is Portsmouth not doing this?
  4. What would you say to reassure Island Park residents?

Town Council President Joe Robicheau's unedited responses follow.

Hello John,

1. I disagree that tolls on the Sakonnet Bridge is a non-time-sensitive issue. The threatened toll is the absolute largest issue facing people in Newport and Bristol counties and the window of opportunity to overturn the initiative is very narrow. We must pursue the Governor and General Assembly with all haste.

As far as the storm goes there is nothing to communicate to residents. It is merely considered a Weather Event. It could certainly develop into something more ominous. Until then it would be unwise to de-sensitize residents with premature warnings.

2. There was most definitely confusion in the Island Park neighborhood relative to evacuation during Irene. Since then, the administration has taken steps to improve public outreach with the able assistance of dedicated civic volunteers Gary Gump, Rich Talipsky and Doug Smith. I understand their efforts are coordinated by Portsmouth Emergency Management coordinator John King. Additionally, the Council has budgeted for, and the Town has installed a reverse “911” system, Code Red, with which to communicate information to residents. This system is supplemental to Police, Fire, and DPW assets.

3. Portsmouth spends more resources on Schools than Middletown. Middletown has an IT staff of 3, and a Town Engineer. Portsmouth is pursuing use of social media and will integrate it as time and resources permit.

4. Island Park is the most vulnerable residential area on Aquidneck Island. Portsmouth Police and Fire Departments are well aware of our most fragile residents and will assist them, specifically, if required. All other residents in the neighborhood should keep informed via radio and television outlets as to the track and timing of the storm. The Town will use all means at its disposal to communicate an evacuation notice should it be required. Information specific to Portsmouth will be posted on the Town’s website. Portsmouth Emergency Management is tracking the storm, Sandy, and the latest information can be obtained at http://portsmouthemergency.com/. Additionally, residents can monitor AM radio stations WADK 1540 and WSAR 1480, Portsmouth Emergency Facebook page, and follow developments on Twitter @PortsmouthEmerg.

I am not the mayor of Portsmouth. I am an elected legislator. As President of the Council, however, I am responsible for declaring a state of emergency and storm driven evacuations. Accordingly, I am updated routinely by the RIEMA, Portsmouth EMA and the Town Administrator. If necessary I will be in radio contact with Town staff should events require my attention.

I hope this information is helpful.

Joe Robicheau

Let's see. 1. Scary messages on tolls are not desensitizing but storm information is? Everyone from the Governor to the Portsmouth Library has posted storm info, but for the Town to offer specifics would be desensitizing. Okay. 2. The first Council vote on the reverse 911 system actually failed. 3. Robicheau blames the school budget for the lack of resources to inform citizens. Well played, sir. 4. Not sure what the Town has done since last year when "all means at its disposal to communicate an evacuation notice" amounted to hearing about it online and nobody home at Town Hall. We'll see what the APRA request turns up.