On Oct. 29, Hurricane Sandy slammed into New Jersey and nearby states. As a result of the storm, thousands were without electricity for almost two weeks, $20 billion worth of property damage was inflicted and officials attributed more than 100 deaths to the hurricane.
Dublin may never experience the full force of a hurricane, but it is still vulnerable to serious and costly disasters such as floods, tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, extreme temperatures and domestic terrorism. In 2008, more than 11 million people in the United States were affected by flooding; in 2005, storms took the lives of 1,833 people and caused $125 billion worth of damage across the country.
“The best way to characterize it is: All disasters are local,” says Tom Hirschy, emergency management coordinator for the City of Dublin. “In the past, the thought was, ‘If something bad happens, we’ll just wait for the cavalry to arrive.’ But recent national disasters have shown that the federal government is going to respond, but it’s going to take a while. It’s the responsibility of local government to manage these disasters until help can arrive.”
Hirschy’s job is to make sure Dublin and its residents are prepared for all types of emergencies.
One part of Hirschy’s job is to write and practice a variety of preparatory emergency plans for the City and its officials. Another part is communicating to the residents of Dublin how to be personally prepared for disasters – as well as the potential for a three- to seven-day time lag between an emergency and government assistance, both local and federal.
“In a town of almost 42,000 people, if we have a major disaster that comes through, we don’t have the resources to respond to 42,000 people,” Hirschy says. “Our resources are going to be directed to where they’re needed most. So we’re trying to educate, inform and make people aware of what they can do to prepare themselves, so they don’t need the local government to help them – so that they can self-sustain for that time period until further assistance arrives.”
Since Hirschy took on the emergency coordinator role in 2003, he has seen an increased emphasis on local and individual preparedness.
“There’s been a huge change pushed down through presidential declarations and FEMA, mandating a bunch of training requirements and compliance at the local level,” says Hirschy. “And the (government) push is not only about having volunteers ready, but really pushing the community to adopt the idea that emergency preparedness is my individual responsibility.”
Christine Nardecchia, the City’s administrator of volunteer resources, agrees there is an increased local emphasis.
“Recently, even in the world of volunteerism, there’s been a federal push for local volunteer groups to organize and be responsive, and for citizen readiness and preparedness and response to local government,” Nardecchia says.
One group answering that call: the Boy Scouts, whose motto “Be Prepared” has prompted troops all over the country to engage in emergency preparation. One of the merit badges required to become an Eagle Scout is the “Emergency Preparedness” merit badge – with the “Lifesaving” badge as an alternative.
Half of the boys in Boy Scout Troop 356, chartered out of Dublin Baptist Church under Scout Master Tom Reynolds, have already earned their “Emergency Preparedness” merit badge.
“If something were to happen, these boys could clear debris, they know the basics of first aid and how to identify and treat injuries, and a lot of other basic stuff,” says Kimberly Deaton, retired firefighter and committee member for Troop 356.
Two of the scouts have even used their training to save the lives of loved ones, Deaton says.
To earn the badge, a scout must take oral and written tests, take part in a real or practice emergency service project, and prepare emergency kits for his family. The kits are easy to make and important for everyone to have. They’re so important that Nardecchia and a group of volunteers recently assembled basic emergency kits for senior citizens along Meals on Wheels routes.
“The kits just had some basic stuff, like water pouches, prescription drug containers, a light stick, an emergency blanket, a radio, a whistle and an (emergency preparedness) information packet,” she says.
Making a kit is just one of several important emergency preparation steps that everyone can and should take, Hirschy says.
Sign up for a variety of national and local services to ensure you get the latest information on severe weather warnings and other potential emergencies. For locally-generated information, sign up for the Dublin Emergency Calling System at www.dublinohiousa.gov/dublin-police for a phone call alert, or subscribe to e-news from the City of Dublin website at www.dublinohiousa.gov/enews. You can also stay up to date via social media on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dublinohio, or on Twitter @DublinOhio and @DublinPolice.
In addition, purchase a battery-powered weather radio in case all other forms of communication fail.
Make a plan
Discuss with your family, roommate or neighbors what to do in case of an emergency. Decide on a safe place to meet in case you are apart when an emergency happens, and select an out-of-town family member to call and check in with who lives far enough away that he or she would not be affected by the same disaster, in case the local phone lines get overloaded.
Build an emergency kit
Refer to the Boy Scout household emergency kit list, or visit www.ready.gov/build-a-kit and download FEMA’s printer-friendly emergency kit check list. Develop a new habit: always refill important prescriptions a week early so you have enough medication until help arrives or more medication can be delivered or picked up at a pharmacy.
Know your school and/or work safety plan
Talk to your boss or teachers in order to learn your evacuation route, your shelter-in-place locations and who to contact for the organization in case of an emergency. Once you’ve learned the procedure, help educate your co-workers and classmates so that they’ll also know what to do.
Contact Nardecchia at email@example.com to find a volunteer opportunity that fits your personal interests. You can also contact food pantries in your neighborhood to see if they need a particular item or volunteers to help sort food. Or you can, very simply, just get to know your neighbors, especially those who are ill or elderly, and check in with them from time to time.
Heather McCray is a contributing writer. Feedback welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.