Emergency management thinks the worst
Most of us don't think very hard about a huge disaster. It is scary to think about, and most of the response is beyond our control anyway, so why waste time worrying?
If there is a big hurricane in the forecast (and if we're not able or willing to leave the Vineyard), there is a short list of doable things - stockpile food and water, blankets, medicines, flashlights, portable radios, or get to a shelter if the house isn't going to be safe. The rest, we leave up to others, folks we group together as "emergency management," if we think about them at all.
Fortunately for the rest of us, emergency management on Martha's Vineyard thinks hard about disasters, prepares for them, even practices what to do to keep us safe during a disaster and help us recover from one afterwards.
An example of how emergency management prepares was held last week in West Tisbury. On Thursday, a day of training was led by town emergency management director Judith Sibert, who explained the town 's comprehensive emergency management plan - what the town would do if there were a hurricane like 1954's Hurricane Carol, or an outbreak of bird flu, or some other disaster of that scope.
Such a comprehensive plan is required of every town in Massachusetts. Ms. Sibert has recently rewritten the West Tisbury plan to reflect accurately the town's specific resources and needs. According to the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, West Tisbury's plan is one of the best in the state.
Last Thursday, West Tisbury town government was all but shut down for about six hours. According to a press release, participants at the training session included members of the board of selectmen and police, fire, ambulance, animal control, health, and highway departments, as well as members of the town financial management team and representatives of Island Red Cross and Search and Rescue units. According to Ms. Sibert, it is very unusual for a town as small as West Tisbury to conduct exercises bringing all relevant departments of the town together.
Following a three-hour overview of West Tisbury's plan, the attendees participated in two table-top exercises. In the first, an imaginary category-three hurricane with a 10- to 14-foot storm surge (Hurricane Martha) presented challenges such as evacuating low-lying areas, shelter for people and animals, long-term power outages, and massive clean-up. The second exercise imagined a pandemic influenza, such as might occur if H5M1 learns human-to-human transmission and comes here. The challenges here were to treat large numbers of patients and to keep town departments operational and the Island's infrastructure functioning.
The workshop was part of a larger process to keep the town in compliance with the National Incident Management System (NIMS).
According to Ms. Sibert, "There is a lot more to NIMS compliance than taking a class. It is incorporating NIMS processes intro the policies and procedures of all the town departments. Annually exercising the town's plan is also a part of NIMS."