Friday, July 16, 2010
One step forward, but more needed for disaster response
If sometime over the next few weeks you pick up the phone to a robocall from Carlisle’s police or fire chief or a Selectman, be assured this is not a joke. Money left over from grants to cover costs of the town’s H1N1 vaccination clinics has allowed the Board of Health (BOH) to pay for the setup costs and first year’s operation of a “reverse 911” telephone notification system, similar to the one the school uses to contact parents in an emergency. The system will include all town residents, but, if needed, can also pinpoint particular geographic areas of town for an extremely local purpose, such as a lost child or unexpected road closing.
The database of phone numbers provided initially with the system will include all “published” landline numbers with addresses in Carlisle, and the BOH expects to do a test call to these soon. Residents will also be able to add unpublished/unlisted and/or cell numbers to the database; watch for instructions in the Mosquito sometime this summer.
This phone system, on emergency planners’ wish list for years, fills a worrisome gap in plans to help residents cope in public health and other emergencies, but it cannot do much if telephone service is also interrupted. Nor can it supply much of what we might need if a winter storm, hurricane or other disaster closes roads, interrupts power or otherwise isolates or imperils people in their neighborhoods. For such situations the town (first the Selectmen, later the Carlisle Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) and BOH) has for years promised an active campaign to set up “neighborhood networks” (see “Neighborhood networks and emergency planning – then and now,” May 23, 2008; “Will Carlisle be ready in an emergency?” August 14, 2009), but very few such groups have actually formed.
This is not hard to understand. Maybe no one really believes we will ever need these “next-door” support systems. Certainly the benefits promised – groups of neighbors pre-organized to share needed emergency supplies quickly and emergency workers able to broadcast notices using contact people throughout town – seem distant, so getting started is easily postponed.
Moreover, despite assumed norms favoring friendliness and cooperation with our neighbors, psychological factors may inhibit banding together as well. Many people who are attracted to Carlisle value the relative isolation of our homes. Privacy concerns or suspicions may keep some of us from sharing information about ourselves with those living nearby, instead reserving intimacy for those we meet through work or church or other common interests.
Or maybe the work of organizing such networks has fallen through the cracks. Historically, organizing citizens on the basis of location rather than age or need has not been a central priority for any one town department or volunteer group. So it looks as if this concept will remain just a “good idea” unless one or more organizations concerned with the safety of the vulnerable (e.g. the Police or Fire Departments, Council on Aging, BOH/MRC, Carlisle School Association) take responsibility for actively recruiting neighborhood organizers, and nearly 50 of us heed that call. The BOH would like to help any willing volunteers; if you’d like to learn more, call them at 1-978-369-0283.
At high noon on July 4, a modest but moving event took place at the Town Green: a public reading of the Declaration of Independence. Organized by Cindy Schweppe, it was a simple ceremony. Copies of the Declaration were handed out, a roster of Carlisle residents who fought in the Revolutionary War was recited, and then those assembled were invited to read the entire document aloud, each person taking a section in sequence. There were no speeches, no fireworks, and no hoopla – just the original text. From start to finish, it took about 15 minutes.
Thomas Jefferson certainly had a way with words. His genius was in distilling the complex issues of the day into a few beautifully crafted phrases that were designed to both incite and to justify in equal measure. The Declaration is half poetry and half legal indictment. The opening line, “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more Perfect Union…” is shorter than a tweet on Twitter, but in it Jefferson manages to convey the essential message and spirit of the Revolution; there’s no doubt about what this is all about, and what it portends. The war for independence would take six long years, but those first few words invested it with meaning, justification, and a sense of inevitability. Powerful stuff.
Jefferson justifiably gets most of the credit for drafting the Declaration, but it’s useful to remember that he had plenty of editorial help – the entire Continental Congress in Philadelphia scrutinized every word. After all, their “Lives, Fortunes and Sacred Honor” were very much at stake. And, truth be told, some of the editing improved on the original. For example, where Jefferson wrote that King George “suffered the administration of justice totally to cease in some of these states,” the delegates condensed this to “He has obstructed the Administration of Justice.” Credit also goes to Samuel Adams, cousin of John, who, perhaps more than any other patriot, was able to rouse the rabble, providing an emotional and political base for the independence movement. In fact, years later, when Jefferson himself was asked who was most responsible for the Declaration, he cited Sam Adams.
The participants at the reading were, more or less, “seasoned Carlisleans,” familiar faces from numerous Old Home Days, Strawberry Festivals and Sixth-Grade Spaghetti Suppers – people who have volunteered for town committees, coached athletic teams and made costumes and props for school plays. Their kids went to Carlisle schools, and no doubt most voted for tax overrides to support them. The gathering was sparse, just few dozen in all, with only one or two youngsters.
I hope that this event will be repeated in the years to come, that the crowds will grow bigger, and that a good number of them will be children. The original signers of the Declaration knew full well the risk that they were taking. Most of them were already prominent and prosperous citizens; they didn’t need the hassle. Still, they put everything they had on the line, not only for themselves and their families but also for generations to come. That would be us.
© 2010 The