PARIS — Oxford County Emergency Management Director Scott Parker said this week that a sheltering drill conducted just two days after an F-1 tornado hit the Oxford Hills would not have been of much immediate help for victims.

“Sheltering is more for preplanned events or if something happens somewhere else and they evacuate say Portland or Lewiston,” he said. “Sheltering is for something like the ice storm. We know they’re coming.”

The tornado, which the National Weather Service said was 700 yards wide and had winds up to 110 miles per hour, took down trees and power lines and damaged houses during its 16-mile trek from Norway to Hartford but did not injure anyone.

The Aug. 23 sheltering drill, which was held at the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School and involved the Red Cross, Oxford County emergency response teams and about 50 volunteers, was set up to prepare for an event that could be foreseen, such as a snow or ice storm.

About 30 to 35 people volunteered to be victims to allow emergency responders to practice how to deal with various situations. Similar drills have been conducted in Fryeburg and Buckfield over the last few years.

“We set up a dormitory and a canteen,” he said. A separate pet area was set up to house animals. 

More than 12 cats and dogs came to the pet shelter as part of the drill. “That went wonderfully,” Parker said.

Parker said the last time the county had to set up a shelter this large was during the ice storm of 1998.

“We haven’t really planned for a tornado,” he said. “Ten or 15 years ago one went through in West Paris, but it was in the wilderness.”

Unlike emergency responders in the South and Midwest, where tornadoes are frequent and plans are laid out, Parker said emergency responders in Maine will now have to think about how to respond to them here.

Parker said they will probably update their emergency response plan to reflect a tornado.

“There are different ways to do that but they all cost money. Reverse 911 is one way,” he said of methods that could be used to notify people of a sudden emergency.

Parker said that perhaps even the old-fashioned use of a siren, such as the one that is used in a dam off Wilsons Mills if the dam breeches, might be useful.

Canton also uses a siren when its officials exercise for a flood, he said.

“This is a new one,” Parker said. “We will be thinking of things we should be doing.”

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Jeremy Damren, center, from Maine Emergency Management Agency, registers with an American Red Cross volunteer at the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in Paris where the drill took place on Aug. 23.

Jennifer Chase from the Oxford County Animal Response Team sets up cages for the animal shelter.

Gary Gilman with the Oxford County Amateur Radio Emergency Services handled ham radio operations at the shelter in the Oxford County communications trailer.


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