It Takes a Community to Be Prepared for Disaster
Dr. Shana Nicholson, faculty member, Emergency and Disaster Management at American Military University
On June 29, 2012, a derecho brought devastation to many Mid-Atlantic states including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey, and West Virginia and the District of Columbia.
This severe storm had winds that reached above 80 mph, which continued throughout the night. This storm left more than 4.2 million people without power, including 600,000 residents of West Virginia, where I live.
For West Virginia to be so badly hit by a storm of this nature is uncommon. Governor Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency due to the substantial power loss. Unfortunately, restoration of power was very slow and made worse by skyrocketing temperatures during the more than two-week outages.
What Have We Learned?
This incident highlighted the need for community preparedness in small towns in West Virginia. The state has many low-populated areas that have limited financial support and resources, making preparedness and recovery more difficult.
In such areas, a regional preparedness effort is often the most effective strategy for emergency planning. The actual implementation of a pre-plan and regional response system requires the assistance and coordination of many agencies. This can bring its own set of challenges as response protocols can vary from region to region and community to community.
In order to tackle such challenges there needs to be strong leadership. Unfortunately, leadership responsibility for regional preparation plans is poorly defined and limited by the budget available across the state. The key to community preparedness remains the presence of strong initiative by both agency leaders and community members.
The Role of Fire Departments
When the West Virginia Division of Forestry announced military surplus generators were available to fire departments and emergency response agencies, several agencies and community leaders stepped up to make preparedness a priority. Scott Crouch, executive director of the Monongalia Emergency Medical Services (MonEMS), sent members of his staff to assist in the transportation of the generators to rural areas. Director Crouch encouraged area leaders in emergency services to bridge the gap between all public safety professions (police, fire and EMS) in order to best serve the overall community.
Regional Preparedness Efforts
With the support of the regional response team, MonEMS, and the West Virginia Division of Forestry, departments such as the Stonewood Volunteer Fire Department were able to equip their buildings with large emergency power generators. For the Town of Stonewood, establishing an emergency shelter is a small step towards disaster preparedness.
The Mayor of Stonewood, Sharon McIntyre, supported the joint efforts of these agencies and also encouraged residents to do their part in proactively preparing their own households for an emergency situation. She encouraged community members to get involved with local emergency preparation plans and to educate themselves on specific responses to emergency situations.
The Role of Citizens
It is everyone’s responsibility to be prepared. Citizens should make an effort to work with their local fire departments, police departments, emergency service providers, and government officials to contribute knowledge and skills to the planning process. If citizens are educated about the resources available and take the time to participate in training or other preparedness activities, the community will truly be better prepared to face disaster.
About the Author: Dr. Shana Nicholson has more than 20 years of emergency medical and fire science service experience. She is currently an active member of Stonewood Volunteer Fire Department in West Virginia. Her professional background also includes government, social services, and nonprofit administration. She is currently a faculty member in emergency and disaster management at American Military University. She received a bachelor’s in criminal justice from Fairmont State University, a master’s of science in Human Services with a specialization in criminal justice from Capella University and a PhD in human services with a counseling specialization also from Capella University.