Behind FEMA, there is LEMA. And behind the Local Emergency Management Agency for Oak Bluffs, there is Peter Martell who, on a recent afternoon, is at the desk of his gloomy office at the Wesley Hotel, facing the door and fielding phone calls.
The room is lined with disaster management literature, Steamship Authority deck plans, stacks of Island directories and maps of flood zones.
Mr. Martell is the 30-year director of emergency services and a veteran Oak Bluffs fireman, as well as owner and manager of the Wesley Hotel. Wearing a collared shirt and a mesh baseball cap bearing the name of his hotel, he talks fast, smokes regularly and keeps to the point.
“All disasters are local,” he says.
Of his director’s role he says simply, “We’re here to mitigate rescue and recovery operations,” producing a copy of boilerplate, government-issue literature on the position for elaboration.
During an emergency Mr. Martell must ensure coordination among all departments and make certain all logistical needs are being addressed. He may also be required to act as chief advisor on the issuance of a local declaration of emergency (LDE) to federal authorities.
The practical requirements of the job have ballooned since 9/11, he says. Today Mr. Martell works at least 25 hours a week at emergency services, mostly reading releases bearing various acronyms: WHO, FEMA, DHS.
“It used to be that if there was a hurricane or a blizzard they would wheel us out of the closet, but over the past seven years it’s expanded 1,000 times,” he says.
Currently topping the reading list is material on the global virus known as swine flu.
“It is taking center stage right now,” he says. “They expect it to be coming back, they don’t know in what form.”
And when he is not plowing through communiques from government agencies Mr. Martell is at work at the hotel, catering to other government agencies.
Outside the office, the Wesley is populated with employees of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, part of a detail for visiting U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. A man with close-cropped hair, wraparound shades and no reading material was sitting off to the end of the veranda as a reporter entered the building.
It’s something Mr. Martell is more than used to.
“I’ve been dealing with [U.S.] Secret Service at the hotel for 16 years,” he says. “There’s nothing abnormal about what they do; it’s just they’re here to work.”
Golfing friends of Mr. Martell who happened to be members of the Secret Service inquired about rooms in the lead-up to a visit from President Clinton and his family. He was happy to oblige.
In time, Mr. Martell’s municipal roles — he has 37 years experience as fire officer — have made him an effective fixer for security personnel.
“Whatever needed to be done, we had the resources — rope line, barricades, we can source that,” he said.
When Mr. Clinton summered on the Vineyard in 1993 Mr. Martell rented 60 rooms to the agency and he will rent the same number of rooms later this month when the security detail for the First Family arrives at his hotel around August 16. Security for President Obama’s visit will be handled by the Secret Service, with help as always from state and local law enforcement agencies.
As a result he is sold out; Mr. Martell has rented the rest of the 95 hotel rooms for the second half of August.
“I’m delighted to have him,” he says of the 44th President. “It’s great for the economy.”
Mr. Martell also writes disaster plans for the Vineyard, including one for a chemical release on a ferry boat, a plan that revolves around getting passengers docked and off the boat as quickly as possible and testing the vessel with a detector, which he currently has in his office.
Mr. Martell has his counterpart in each Island town and there is excellent regional collaboration among all Island protection agencies, he says, adding:
“Each town is its own political subdivision but the mutual aid here is probably the best in the world.”
Before leaving the office to place cargo on a departing ferry — he declines to offer details — he does wonder, somewhat unconvincingly, if his life would be simpler if he could concentrate on his main job.
“I could just be sitting here renting rooms, not a care in the world.”