Friday, December 16, 2005
Towns grapple with regional emergency response
"When do we start evacuating people, and what do we do with them when we get to the Carlisle border?" Bedford Selectman Gordon Feltman asked community representatives attending an Emergency Preparedness Forum in Hudson last week.
The Forum, sponsored by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) and the Minuteman Area Group on Interlocal Coordination (MAGIC), took place in a framework of heightened awareness of emergency planning needs — the day after Boston's emergency plans had been published in the Boston Globe, and less than two weeks after a serious natural gas emergency in Lexington. The Forum's charge was to have a coordinated regional plan ready to go within two months, a feat MAPC Executive Director Marc Draisen called both "essential and difficult."
The four groups on the panel included: the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA); the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) which supports 351 cities and towns; the Northeast Homeland Security Regional Advisory Council which is responsible for 85 communities; and the Public Health Emergency Preparedness Plan, which covers 34 towns. Many of the existing plans began within Public Health or Fire Department organizations and, as one panelist put it, "kind of spilled over" into defense and security response plans. When one adds to the disparities between existing response systems, the frequently-documented incompatabilities between communications systems and existing administrative hierarchies, the true dimension of the challenge to get going in one direction in two months becomes visible.
Carlisle Selectman Doug Stevenson, who attended the Hudson meeting, noted seven different organizational plans displayed by those attending the meeting. The attitude of the Hudson group was committed, energetic and frustrated. They appreciate the lessons of New Orleans and hope to achieve a plan, with all participants being able to talk easily and share equipment and personnel.
Local groundwork exists
Carlisle's disaster preparations are well under way. The Carlisle Emergency Management Plan was recently updated and the town has a Local Emergency Preparedness Committee, which has pinpointed areas that need attention, such as shelter and communications. (See Mosquito, September 23, "Is Carlisle prepared for disaster?" and "MEMA emergency response flexible, evolving," p.1). That issue also includes a checklist for a family emergency supply kit.
Communication and coordination
Ed Deveau, who chairs the Northeast Homeland Security Regional Advisory Council, said 2/3 of the council's funds went to communication "so all disciplines can talk to each other across both administrative and geographical boundaries." Communication and education is needed within each community, so individuals know what to do, where to go and how to access what they need. Several mentions were made of neighborhood networks, such as Carlisle planned during the Y2K preparations, and similar to one now existing in Concord. Another form of necessary communication is to make state plans available to local officials. A third area discussed was public education and involves the business community, particularly in the case of pandemic response planning.
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