Storm warning: Have a plan in place
While this part of the country was spared from the flooding and damage caused by recent hurricanes in Texas and Florida, Maine is not always so lucky and residents of this state have to deal with emergency situations of their own.
Scarborough Public Library Director Nancy Crowell, an active proponent of emergency preparedness, said that’s why it is so important to have an emergency plan and emergency kits at your disposal in the case of man-made emergencies or natural disasters.
Crowell has made a recommended emergency kit and put it on display at the library until the end of September, which is National Preparedness Month.
According to the Presidential proclamation, the goal of National Preparedness Month is to “bring attention to the importance of readying ourselves for disasters, both natural and man-made” and extend “gratitude to first responders, who selflessly run toward danger to keep our nation and its people safe.”
The idea of the emergency kit, Crowell said, is to make sure individuals and families are in a good position to be self-sufficient if they lose power, are homebound or need to evacuate.
“The preparation is to take care of ourselves first, our neighbors second and then our community, so our responders and rescue teams can go out and rescue people in jeopardy and do the jobs that need to be done,” Crowell said.
A list of recommended items to include in an emergency kit can be found in pamphlets at the library or online at ready.gov/build-a-kit.
The basics, she said, is a gallon of water per day per per- son; canned food; headlamps; flashlights; battery-powered radio; batteries; first aid kit; copies of important paperwork; duct tape, tarp or large plastic bag; trial size toiletries, extra clothes; medication; toys/books for children and food, water and supplies for pets.
It is important to check the expiration dates on food and other items occasionally and swap them out when needed. Crowell said she donates her stockpile of canned food to soup kitchens or food pantries when she needs to update it and before the food expires.
Crowell said it may also be helpful to have maps of the region in case you have to evacuate out of your local area and your GPS device doesn’t work.
“You have to think about all the stuff you’ll be carrying. This is meant to be quick and portable and be in one place so you can get up and go,” Crowell said, adding the aforementioned items can fit in a standard three-gallon utility or spackle bucket, which can, with a douse of cat litter, double, if needed, as a toilet.
Crowell stressed that it is critical to have the items you need ready to go because emergencies and natural disasters can come with little, to no warning.
“One of the things we try to educate people on is if you are being asked to evacuate, something big is happening and when that happens your ability to think rationally changes. The brain changes it focus,” she said. “Even if you think you can get all this stuff put together in 10 minutes, your mental focus will be so different that you’ll be incapable of doing that while thinking what your next step will be.”
Along with an emergency kit, families are encouraged to develop an emergency communication plan outlining where to go, and who to notify in the event of an emergency or disaster.
“If something big happened, we would likely create a shelter, but shelters are really a place of last resort. They are uncomfortable and usually people prefer to stay with friends or relatives elsewhere,” Scarborough Fire Chief and Emergency Management Director B. Michael Thurlow said.
In times of emergency or disaster, Scarborough High School serves as not only Scarborough’s shelter, but a regional shelter as well.
“With large event, collectively we don’t have the resources for every community to staff their own (shelter), especially if it is something that lasts a couple days, a week, or more,” Thurlow said.
Having an emergency communication plan is important, he said “so relatives and those who concerned about you can still get in touch with you if we lose phone connection or electricity.”
“It’s important to heed the warnings early,” Thurlow said. “Take what happens in Florida (with Hurricane Irma). That was forecast a solid week ahead of time and it provided folks plenty of time.”
According to ready.gov, an official website of the Department of Homeland Security, the plan should answer the following questions: how will I receive emergency alerts and warning?; what is my shelter plan?; what is my evacuation route? and what is my family/household communication plan?
Crowell said like emergency responders, the library serves as an important resource in times of emergency, albeit in a different way.
“Part of our role as a library as part of the town’s emergency management plan is to help with public education in emergency preparedness and resiliency,” he said.
Scarborough Public Library is part of the Southern Maine COAD (Community Organizations Active in Disaster) and serves as a volunteer reception area in times of emergency and library staff organizes volunteers interested in helping, both individuals who are affiliated – trained by the Federal Emergency Management Agency or organizations such as the American Red Cross and unaffiliated – not specifically trained in emergency relief – volunteers.
This, she said, could be seen during the Patriot’s Day storm in April 2007 and during the H1N1 flu vaccination clinics in 2009.
“There was a lot of property damage in town – downed trees and limbs and the library was able to coordinate volunteer to go to people’s houses to remove brush from the yard, especially for our elderly residents,” she said of the Patriots Day 2007 recovery efforts.
Coordination of volunteers is a critical part of the emergency response plan.
“The volunteers should not go into an area before it is safe. The first responders provide the ability to make sure everything is safe for us and we don’t get in the way,” she said.
Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.