Ancestors of the Wampanoag people used to ease the effects of winter storms by moving their longhouses and wetus away from the coasts and burying their agricultural goods in holes they had dug in the ground.
“Our ancestors practiced emergency management principles well before our time,” said Nelson Andrews Jr., Director of the Emergency Management Department for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.
Today, it’s no longer feasible for tribal members to simply relocate their homes, although a few may have given this some thought with four Nor’easter storms in just three weeks hitting the region last month. Thankfully the Tribe’s Emergency Management Department, Police Department and Security were making rounds ensuring tribal members received emergency support.
A large portion of the roughly 2,600-member Mashpee tribe, whose ancestors lived off the land in Massachusetts for some 12,000 years, received almost immediate support. Homeland Security Agent Chief Kevin Frye and Agent Captain Curtis Frye provided wellness checks, transportation to a warming station that had been setup at the Tribe’s Community and Government Center and made deliveries of wood and supplies during the storms and the days that followed.
At the same time MWT Emergency Management Director Nelson Andrews Jr, Emergency Preparedness Specialist Allyssa Hathaway along with members from the Tribal Community Emergency Response Team (TCERT) were also conducting wellness checks on vulnerable and elder Tribal members and responding to reports of damage to homes and tribal property while clearing debris, snow and transporting Tribal members to various safe places of refuge.
“Our primary focus and first concern is the safety of our tribal community.” Director Andrews said.
About 40 elder and priority vulnerable members live within the tribe’s emergency response radius. The emergency response teams made it a priority to ensure these households remained safe throughout the storms.
“It’s good to have somebody we can contact,” said 95-year-old Vernon “Silent Drum” Lopez, chief of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, who has lived off Meetinghouse Road for more than 40 years.
Lopez, who lost power for over five days during one of the storms, was able to rely on a generator Nelson helped to set up, which provided for the use of a microwave, reading light and several electronic devices.
With the prolonged power outage, The Emergency Management Department, Police Department and Security – along with the Tribal Administrator and Indian Health Services organized a warming station at the Tribe’s Community and Government Center. Emergency Management Director Nelson Andrews Jr coordinated with the Cape and Islands American Red Cross Disaster Program Manager to deploy Red Cross teams to assist with warming station operations. Security Supervisor Erin Bassett and Guard Cece Martinez worked with the Red Cross to open the warming station. The Community and Government Center was available to the entire local community and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe was available to provide, warmth, charging, nourishment and a place of rest to those in need until the power was fully restored.
The Tribe’s Emergency Management Department received a major Federal Grant last year through the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency, which Director Andrews said was specifically awarded to build on Tribes emergency management capacity. Altogether, the tribe’s Emergency Management Department is funded through multiple grants and mirrors the National Incident Management System, which emphasizes preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation.