With donated generators, Y can be shelter in storm
By Kathy Chaffin
Salisbury now has a shelter capable of housing hundreds of people during disasters resulting in widespread power outages.
“Hopefully, we’ll never need it,” said Frank Thomason, Rowan County’s director of emergency services. But just in case the county is hit by another disaster like the ice storm of 2002, people without power for extended periods could take shelter at the J.F Hurley Family YMCA on Jake Alexander Boulevard.
Thanks to a communitywide effort, the Y now has an emergency generator and can house 700 people, probably more, providing them with heat and water in a disaster situation. Over the past five years, Thomason said, community leaders have been going through various preparedness surveys to determine if Rowan County is ready for a disaster.
As part of that process, he said the Y was identified ó because of its large size and central location ó as a primary disaster shelter site. “One of the things that it lacked and needed, particularly in a disaster situation, was some form of emergency power,” he said.
That’s where Rowan Regional Medical Center officials stepped in, he said, offering to donate two 750-kilowattt emergency generators that were replaced as part of their building/renovation projects.
Rick Parker, vice president of clinical and support services for the medical center, said larger generators were needed to support the modern imaging equipment being used to diagnose patients.
Even though the generators are 20 years old, he said they were used very little. The last time was during the 2002 ice storm. “I think we ran three straight days before our power came back on.”
Parker said the generators, worth about $50,000 each, were tested monthly while in place at Rowan Regional.
After accepting the generous donation, Thomason said community leaders working on preparedness still had to come up with the money to install them at the Y.
Jamie Morgan, chief executive officer of the YMCA of Rowan County, said the Y received two separate grants from the Philip Morris Employee Fund to cover the $40,000 installation cost for each generator. The cost of filling the generators with diesel fuel ó almost $7,000 ó was funded by a grant from the Rowan County United Way to the Elizabeth Hanford Dole Chapter of the American Red Cross.
The city of Salisbury, Rowan County, Salisbury-Rowan Utilities and Duke Energy also contributed to the project.
“It was a big community effort,” Morgan said, “a partnership between a lot of different groups to make this happen. It’s a great example of how when you get several people working together for one good common cause, something great can happen.”
The generators are in working order, he said. They’ve both been tested and will continue to be tested on a monthly basis.
Thomason said everything is in place for the Y to serve as a primary emergency shelter. “If we had a situation that we needed to use it tonight, we certainly would be able to do that.”
A dedication of the generators is scheduled for Wednesday at 10 a.m. at the Y. “We are just taking a moment to formally recognize all the entities that were involved,” he said, “and to thank them for their continued participation in our preparedness program.”
Parker said a lot of work went on behind the scenes to get the generators in place, including electrical engineers volunteering their time to get them up and working. “The YMCA would have never been able to raise the money, I don’t think, to purchase something like this and get it installed.”
The timing couldn’t be more appropriate, he noted, with Hurricane Gustav approaching the United States. “Now that we’ve had (Hurricane) Katrina and all, we know the value of having emergency power,” Parker said. “You can’t wait until an event occurs to do something about it.”
Though the Y has served as a shelter in the past when it was located in the old facility on North Fulton, Morgan said it did not have an emergency generator and was not able to provide heat or water. With the new generators, he said it will be a place where people can go in a disaster situation.
“I’m just thankful for us to be able to serve the community in a different way than how we traditionally serve with the YMCA,” he said.
Thomason said preparedness planning is an ongoing process in Rowan County. There are presently about 20 designated emergency shelter sites at different locations throughout the county.
“We are working toward being able to have identified shelter space for 10 percent of our population,” he said. “We’re reaching out to the communities across the county to continue to identify shelter locations now and into the future.”