The Block Island Times

Senior Advisory Committee looks into communication systems

By Gloria S. Redlich | Sep 05, 2013

The Block Island Senior Advisory Committee (SAC), in its search for a community-wide communication system, is looking into companies that may be able to provide the needed technology.

At its meeting on Aug. 20, several members who had previously agreed to research community alert programs reported on what they found.

Among those being investigated were Global Connect, Code Red, Reverse 911 and TRZ, a system used by the local school, through which families are notified in emergencies or when there is an incident affecting the entire school community.

Believing the need was for more than just preparation for hurricanes, SAC Board member Sandra Kelly said, “In an age of information, when our island phone numbers are no longer four digits, I think there should be a communication system that the town supports.” She said this was the only community that she knew of that didn’t have such a system and noted that the town paid for the school’s system and should do likewise for a town-wide system.

Kelly pointed out that through the TRZ system that the school uses, families were notified by telephone text, landline, and smart phones, with individuals selecting which mode of contact they preferred.

Another system considered was Reverse 911, a public safety communications system used all over the United States and in Canada, which reaches out to people in a designated geographic area. Utilizing a database of phone numbers and related addresses, this system distributes emergency alerts to those telephone service subscribers who have signed up.

Among the more recent instances of using the Reverse 911 was the notification of parents after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting incident and during the search for the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombings when the system notified residents of Watertown, Mass. to remain at home.

Kelly learned from Town Manager Nancy Dodge that the system is expensive. Reporting on the TRZ program, Ann Henault said the yearly rate was determined by the number of households, running from $1.50 to $2.00 per household. There would also be a one-time set-up fee per household.

Kelly said the goal of the Senior Advisory Committee was to provide information to the Town Council. “We are advocates of a communication program,” she said. Deputy Town Clerk Millie McGinnes said, “You’re in an advisory capacity to the Town Council and you should suggest a [system].”

Calculating the average program expenses to be around $2,500, Linda Spak said, “That’s not much in the scheme of things.” She suggested it might be useful to “get a written proposal from each communications company.”

Chair Gail Pierce thought it important to continue to investigate the options.

Search for coordinator continues

Pierce explained there had initially been four applicants for the position of senior coordinator, which was vacated last spring when Kathleen Mitchell stepped down. However, those numbers dwindled, she said, when three became unavailable. After some discussion, the group concluded it was not a good idea to look for applicants from the mainland, leading to a decision to re-advertise for applicants.

Pierce asked members to brainstorm the best approach for finding candidates. “Should we highlight a few people we know and ask people to apply?” Former committee member Janet Merritt suggested “going to different groups, organizations — perhaps the school, the ministries and reach out to younger people.”

Discussion turned on the language of the advertisement, with some members suggesting it had been too formal. Believing it was a position that would ultimately grow from part-time into full-time, Pierce felt it was very important to find someone appropriate for the post. There was discussion of posting the ad on the school’s E-blast, as well as in The Block Island Times and on the Block Island Bulletin Board.

Concern about building management

On another issue, Spak expressed concern about a recent article in The Block Island Times reporting that the Block Island Early Learning Center (BIELC) was looking into taking up the management of the building that houses the Old Harbor Meadows Community Center as well as the BIELC. Spak felt that because “the building serves the wider community, [the ELC board] should know that the Community Center building is serving others in the community, including seniors, and is not just for one entity.”

The center is home to two senior programs sponsored by the advisory board, the Lunch Bunch and the Soup Group. Currently, the building is managed by Block Island Economic Development (BIED), the town agency that underwrote construction of the building.

Kelly said, “I feel it was intended for a community building.” She added, “If another group will take over it should stay a community center building,” though she agreed that the ELC should remain. “It should be for everyone’s use,” she said.

If another entity takes over, Spak said, “Then BIED can take its money and go on to another building project.”


Kelly reported that a letter had been sent to a number of town organizations and agencies urging town officials to use the Block Island Bulletin Board (BIBB) for community announcements. To date, she said there had been only one response.

She also suggested that BIBB could be used for the posting of an island-wide community calendar. Kelly said there were currently 325 members on BIBB, which had handled 1372 postings to date. She added, “Since we put information about BIBB into the Block Island Power Company bill, we have gained 55 people.”

Pierce felt BIBB was the place to post a community calendar and Kelly said she had one that could post senior citizens’ activities. She indicated there would be “some effort within the community to create an island-wide calendar.” Pierce and the group agreed to develop a series of upcoming activities for the coming year.

For example, several individuals asked for a program demonstrating the use of a defibrillator.

The next meeting is on Sept. 17.

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