Relationships are vital in emergencies - network now!
First Circle Safety's mission is to help people live better, more confident lives knowing that they have the knowledge, skills and equipment to take care of themselves and those around them. Notice it's not "One Circle Safety" or “Lone Wolf Safety”... there are progressive rings as you work outward from yourself and immediate household. Next door neighbors, neighborhood, section of town, whole town ... it continues to grow. It makes sense to start with your first circle, but that doesn't mean you can't work with other groups to increase a wider range of resiliency. In an emergency, the better prepared your area is then the less disruption to everyone - including you
As part of my duties as a full-time patrol Sergeant, I also serve on the Emergency Management Committees of two small towns (my PD provides police services for a small neighboring town of 700, yes seven hundred - no zeros missing). This assignment overlaps nicely with my mission here at FCS - I can help people become more self-reliant and better prepared on a wide scale. As we work to help mitigate disasters and plan for response, sometimes we get a test.
In March 2023 the Town of Leyden MA was hit with nearly three feet of snow in less than two days. This small town is very hilly with limited roads into/out of town, one main line for power, limited cellular service and horrible radio terrain (especially with our new 'upgraded' 800 mHz radios) It was impossible to keep roads open, as we had to use chain saws to cut our way into any emergency calls then often cut our way back out. Road closures couldn't be posted as they changed several times per hour. Predictably, when those trees came down many took power and communication lines with them. Some areas in town were without power for seven days. An additional twist was that the town recently had entered the 21st century with fiber optic broad band through town - and many residents switched their phone lines over, not realizing that without power, they also had no telephone. With limited cell service, many residents were without power, communication, heat, and more.
The calls for "check the welfare" began rolling in from concerned friends and relatives outside town almost immediately. As a small area we are a full-time police department but the FD is a call department, and an ambulance is 30+ minutes away in good weather. As we found out many also had very little for preparations; I fielded one call the day after the storm where a resident was concerned about running out of food. Some didn’t realize that without power, they had no water – there is no municipal water supply, and everyone is on a well. We couldn't possibly check on every single person, and with the communication limitations we just did as we always do - the best that we could. Coordination between the police, fire & highway departments was solid, however we kept getting status inquiries from residents and town officials. After the event, with fortunately no major issues or injuries, the committee realized that we needed to focus on immediate threats first - the 'first circle' for the town.
After many hours of review, meetings, and work spearheaded by the committee's Public Information Officer (PIO) the EMC put together a festival style event designed to help impart knowledge, skills, and equipment recommendations (sounds familiar ...) that was open to the entire town.
This was a 'festival' style gathering open to the public, with many educational set ups to help work with the public to build up individual preparedness and more importantly to foster relationships. We had booths set up from the board of health, fire department, state emergency management (MEMA), mental health professionals, an amateur radio club, local snowmobile club and many others. I staffed a booth for the police department, as we provide police services from the neighboring town which is slightly bigger. I was also able to coordinate with the local rifle club (Leyden Rifle Club) who set up a booth. Free ice cream was arranged for several hours, and we had a great chili cook off contest. Different state representatives were present as well, keeping those all important relationships strong.
Throughout the day, focus seminars were conducted; this included a section on mental health issues for those unable to leave home during an emergency (there were several issues during that storm), a chain saw demonstration, fire extinguisher skills session, a round table with the MEMA rep about recommendations and resources available, and a 'game show' where contestants were asked preparedness questions. At the end, as an EMC we discussed the emergency management plan, and showed the progress we've made. Our highway department supervisor and Public Information Officer coordinated with other members and helped map out ten 'neighborhoods' as suggestions within the town, to help decentralize services and group people together geographically to work together. This draft is being put out to the public, with some suggestions but essentially letting the residents decide what works best for them.
As the police department rep I focused on day to day emergencies (such as having a full sized jack & tire in your vehicle, 'jump pack' to jump start your car, etc), security issues during power outages, and general basic preparedness safety to include water, food, lighting, safe heating, first aid, and security during a prolonged emergency. The Big Berkey water filter, can of Mountain House freeze dried 'Chicken & Rice' (many were shocked at the 'use by' date of March 2040), and large solar street lights were a big hit at my table. I was able to get many to start thinking of basic radios to coordinate with their neighbors when the phones go out, and many were taking notes or pictures of items to research later on their own.
This model might not work everywhere, but it's an idea many in rural areas may find useful - get involved locally! Many in this community have shared concerns; almost all single family homes, lots of land (82% of the town is forested), similar vulnerabilies to power loss, water, wild fire, home fires, heating etc. There is no municipal water, sewer, gas lines or even a single retail store anywhere in town. Given that, it was much easier to focus on nearly identical concerns. Did I mention how vital it is to do an Area Study? Mike Shelby and the crew at www.forwardobserver.com have been espousing the need for an Area Study to be prepared for years – his book The Area Intelligence Handbook is a vital reference to being prepared in your area.