The city is in a state of emergency as it deals with the COVID-19 pandemic.
What does that actually mean?
When Mayor David Allaire issued the declaration earlier this week, he described the powers under the declaration as “a number of things I’m not expecting to do, but now have the ability to do it if something were to change and change quickly.” Those included calling emergency meetings of the Board of Aldermen without 24 hours notice, purchasing essential supplies without going through the normal bidding process and latitude to enact regulations for public health and safety.
“There’s no travel ban,” Allaire said Monday, referring to a provision in the ordinance that lets him restrict vehicle traffic during emergencies. “It’s just something in the ordinance that I can do if there’s a certain set of circumstances. ... I don’t believe I will have to go anywhere near that in this particular crisis.”
Allaire said he expects to rely on his ability to convene Board of Aldermen meetings and possibly the one on purchasing if a situation arises, like the sudden need and opportunity to buy a supply of hand sanitizer for city employees.
Rutland’s mayors have declared states of emergency in the past largely for natural disasters.
Jeffrey Wennberg declared a state of emergency shortly after he took office in 1987.
“It was kind of a standard spring flooding event,” he said. “We had to evacuate three or four families from Dorr Drive. In order to require people to leave their homes, I had to declare a state of emergency so they’d be required to leave and not requested.”
Wennberg said there was a fear the families might not evacuate unless forced.
“We were satisfactorily convinced they would be put in harm’s way,” Wennberg said. “Aldo Manfredi (the city’s emergency management director at the time), for whom the bridge is named ... suggested we do the declaration so we could make it clear it was a requirement, not a suggestion.”
Wennberg said that was the only time he could recall declaring a state of emergency in his 12 years as mayor.
Wennberg’s successor, John Cassarino, said he could not recall declaring any states of emergency during his tenure, which lasted from 1999 to 2007.
Christopher Louras had at least two states of emergency during his tenure, first during the Nor’icane of 2007, followed by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. When the city’s water supply was dwindling during the aftermath of Irene, Louras contemplated using his authority under the declaration to shut down water-intensive businesses.
Louras was not immediately available for an interview Tuesday.
Allaire said he did not recall declaring a state of emergency, but he did activate the city’s emergency operation center in the police station during a wind storm that caused widespread blackouts shortly after he took office in 2017. He activated the EOC again Monday concurrent with his declaration.
“We just brought in the different players from department heads and agencies around the city to coordinate our efforts and make sure we’re not reinventing the wheel,” said Acting Fire Chief William Lovett, who doubles as the city’s emergency management coordinator.
Lovett said the center’s operations follow a national framework; the infrastructure was ready to go.
“We’ve used this on a number of occasions in the past,” he said. “It’s sort of an all-framework we can adapt to deal with flooding or a police action. ... The whole purpose of this organization right now is to maintain essential services to the taxpayers and make sure they don’t see any ripples.”