The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 23, 2008


Neighborhood networks and emergency planning – then and now

How many people remember “Y2K” when people feared computer systems would grind to a halt as the year changed to 2000? The problem was that older software that stored dates using only two digits would be confused when “99” changed to “00.” In spite of efforts to upgrade software, some worried that critical systems like power supplies or financial services might shut down on January 1, 2000 and emergency preparedness was a popular topic in 1999. Although emergency planners from the state and town boards worry now about pandemic disease and “dirty bombs” rather than the more prosaic power outages feared in 1999, the solutions proposed are nearly identical to what was planned nine years ago. Implementing solutions both then and now has proven to be more challenging for Carlisle than for the larger town of Concord.

By the time the millennium had arrived, town-wide organizing efforts in Concord had involved committees of town officials meeting regularly with neighborhood community groups for as long as a year. The town had developed plans for emergency shelters at Concord-Carlisle Regional High and Middlesex Schools, both with independent power-generating capacities, and with transportation for citizens to the shelters using the school bus fleet. They had performed dry runs of extended power outages to test “community support structures” to see what might happen if electric or gas were out for long periods.

Carlisle, by contrast, had no shelter capacity, nor would Emerson Hospital or other Concord venues be available to townspeople, according to a notice from the Selectmen published in the Mosquito in December 1999. Instead, people “at risk” were urged to register with the police dispatcher so that an officer could check on the parties should a lengthy power outage occur.

Neighborhood networks then

On a more grass-roots level, in the spring of 1999 Carlisle’s Selectmen agreed to support the efforts of citizens Jon Saphier and Paul Hackbarth to encourage townspeople to organize “practical neighborhood safety nets” in anticipation of Y2K. Saphier and Hackbarth hoped that neighborhood-based self-help efforts would “identify those most at risk and least prepared should there be disruptions” at the millenium. They advised potential volunteers to identify “warm houses” (e.g. with generators or big wood stoves) “where neighbors could count on power and thus warmth and shelter” in extended power outages, and “ to conduct an audit of who has useful skills and equipment and who might have special needs.” According to Saphier, at least one group met and gathered the necessary information, but after Y2K community organizing efforts subsided.

Map of neighborhood networks under formation. (Courtesy of Board of Health, adapted by Marjorie Johnson)


Today’s efforts

In 2008, Carlisle’s newly-appointed Emergency Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) Executive Committee hopes to organize similar “Neighborhood Networks” throughout the town. They have so far recruited between five and eight possible volunteer coordinators covering the Brook Street, Indian Hill/Autumn Lane, Tall Pines, North Road, School Street, River/Skelton/Prospect Streets, Nowell Farme Road, and Fern Lane areas (see map above). They plan a meeting for these and other interested volunteers in June.

Coordinators role

The MRC Executive Committee hopes to use a booth at Old Home Day to recruit volunteer coordinators for Neighborhood Networks. Volunteers will be encouraged to bring their neighbors together for social activities and for some training in disaster preparation. However, the primary purpose for town officials to form these networks is to be able to contact people distributed throughout town who can communicate information to citizens in an emergency, especially if telephone systems are disabled. In addition, they hope volunteer coordinators will learn about neighbors’ special needs. As in Y2K, coordinators will likely be asking neighbors for voluntary information about the household’s resources, skills and supplies, again in case of an emergency where outside help may not be available.

Sample forms being considered would ask for the names, ages, contact information and special needs of all adults and children in a household, for information about pets, and/or about particular skills (e.g. camping, medical or psychological training, carpentry or plumbing) or equipment in the home (e.g. generator, plow, snow shoes, HAM, CB or solar radio.)

First network starting

Mary Zoll of School Street volunteered several months ago to serve as a neighborhood coordinator. After waiting for the MRC to schedule a meeting for volunteer coordinators, she has forged ahead, inviting her neighbors nearby on School Street and Baldwin Road to get together June 1. Zoll plans a “primarily social” event (weather permitting, a barbecue), with no speeches or pressure to volunteer. Already, several days prior to her RSVP deadline, 18 people have promised to attend.

Though her goal is primarily “to help people recognize the names and faces of their neighbors,” Zoll will also have available brochures on disaster preparation from the BOH, and hopes to collect information on names, ages, contact information, special needs and resources from those willing to provide it.

Other emergency planning

According to Carlisle MRC Executive Committee Member Frank deAlderete, speaking at the group’s May 19 meeting, the Carlisle Fire Department plans a “mass casualty drill” June 7 to train for several emergency scenarios involving more than two victims. Fantasia and Bill Risso, Board of Health member and liaison to the MRC, questioned why the Medical Reserve Corps had not been involved in planning or participating. Fantasia pointed out the MRC included people with medical and emergency training who might be helpful. It was felt that plans for communication across disciplines in a health emergency like a pandemic or shelter situation are not sufficiently specific or detailed.

The MRC Executive Committee has voted to participate in a joint emergency response drill with Concord’s Community Emergency Response Team, to be held in Concord in November. They have also discussed holding a “walk-through” of the plan for operating an emergency dispensing site at the Carlisle School in the fall. ∆

Y2K checklist, from the Mosquito, Dec. 3, 1999

Things to do in advance

• Know who your neighbors are.

•Learn how to drain your water pipes (including baseboard heat) so if power

goes out, they won’t freeze.

• Learn how to restart your furnace, water pump, water treatment system.

• For one day, notice what you use electricity for.

• Test smoke detectors.

• Save hard copies of financial statements and monthly bills.

• Keep some cash and checks on hand.

• Plan to have your cars filled with gas.

• Find out how to manually open your electric garage door.

• Refill medical prescriptions.

• Find those down sleeping bags.

Suggestions of things to buy

• Drinking water, at least one gallon per person per day, times several days.

• Canned and dry food for a week or more.

• A manual can opener.

• Battery-operated radio, flashlights, and lots of batteries.

• A phone that plugs into the wall, in case only the phone power stays on.

• Firewood and matches or lighters.

• Amusements: playing cards, games, maybe a fun novel to read.

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito