After being battered by storm, Shelburne looks to prepare for future emergencies

  • Principal Amber Tulloch and Cafeteria Manager Rachel Gammell opened Hawlemont Regional School in Charlemont as a warming center on Thursday even though the school was officially closed for a snow day. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • A house on Legate Hill Road in Charlemont is surrounded by snow. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Doug Annear uses his tractor to clear a driveway on Legate Hill Road near his home in Charlemont. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Shelburne Emergency Management Director Tom Williams makes a list of actionable items to prepare for future town emergencies during a meeting on Thursday at the Police Station. Sheryl Stanton, superintendent of the Mohawk Trail and Hawlemont regional school districts, participates in the discussion. STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer
Published: 3/17/2023 7:33:24 PM

SHELBURNE — With Tuesday’s storm leaving western Franklin County towns underneath as much as 3 feet of snow, local officials have since been considering how to best prepare for future weather emergencies.

The nor’easter left some residents without power for days as utility crews and first responders dealt with downed trees and power lines. Even Berkshire East Mountain Resort in Charlemont was left without power and was unable to open until Thursday.

“We were caught off guard,” Greg Bardwell, chief of the Shelburne and Buckland Police departments, said Thursday. “I didn’t have any idea it was going to affect such a great amount of people in such a short period of time.”

John Taylor, chief of the Shelburne Fire Department, said despite the dramatic weather, there were no deaths or accidents related to the storm in Shelburne. Still, the town’s Emergency Management Committee convened Thursday night at the Police Station to discuss how the town had fared and to plan for future emergencies.

While several of the towns affected by the storm called a state of emergency, it was not declared by the state, so no relief effort expenses will be reimbursed by the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA). However, MEMA did assist with emergency response, providing Hawley with a bulldozer to assist with snow removal, for example.

Members of the Emergency Management Committee commented that the Shelburne Highway Department did a fantastic job clearing the 50 miles of roads in town the entire time it was snowing.

“Highway really stepped up,” Taylor added.

One of the biggest points discussed at the meeting was Shelburne’s need for a centralized information center. Shelburne has an Emergency Operations Center organized by Emergency Management Director Tom Williams, but it was not deployed during this week’s snowstorm.

The group said in future emergencies the town should not be afraid to use the Emergency Operations Center. For this storm, multiple Shelburne department heads created a group chat to share information and split up work between the departments. This strategy was unsuccessful, though, due to poor cellphone reception on Tuesday.

Bardwell noted his phone would receive texts only when he was at the Police Station, so it was unhelpful while department leaders were out in town helping people.

“It was an unusual circumstance,” Bardwell said. “That is the first time in 15 years I hadn’t had [use of a cellphone] during a storm.”

Several people at the meeting stated they thought that all cell towers should have functional generators so cell service can be used during weather emergencies.

Cell tower generators were not the only generator the emergency management team was concerned about. The Mohawk Trail Regional School generator and the Shelburne Highway Department generator malfunctioned during the storm.

Mohawk Trail Regional School is the only emergency shelter — which is different from a warming center because it is also a place for people to sleep overnight — for all of western Franklin County, so the Emergency Management Committee noted the importance of the school’s generator in particular. Mohawk Trail and Hawlemont Regional School in nearby Charlemont both opened as warming centers, although school was not in session at the time.

“We were lucky we didn’t have extreme cold,” committee member Penny Spearance said. She noted there would have been a greater need for warming centers if the power had been out longer and if temperatures were colder.

There was also a concern for better emergency coordination between towns in the region. Sheryl Stanton, superintendent of the Mohawk Trail and Hawlemont regional school districts, said she contacts the Highway Department of each town to determine when to call a snow day, but she thought there should be a more centralized system for communication.

Alternative routes were also a concern. At times throughout the storm, three different spots on Route 2 were impassable. Much of the traffic going to Greenfield was directed to the winding, small Brook Road instead. Committee members noted they needed many more detour signs to properly mark the route, with Taylor mentioning Shelburne only has about half a dozen detour signs.

Taylor also noted the importance of neighbor support during extreme weather.

“We still have a good community, with neighbors always checking on each other,” he said. “We need to educate others on this.”

Taylor said he heard about many people checking on their vulnerable neighbors and making sure people had plans for the emergency.

Bardwell said the Police Department was concerned for people stranded in their homes who could not call to request wellness checks. He said officers conducted wellness checks on those who did call, but also stopped at surrounding houses with known vulnerable residents.

“Climate change is coming,” Williams said. “We should expect more of this.”

Bella Levavi can be reached at 413-930-4579 or


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