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Are You Ready for Any Local Disaster?

by Mary Greendale
October 11, 2018

Flooding is the most likely disaster in this area. Are we prepared for disasters as individuals, town, region?

 

The photos date back to 2005 when East Holliston was flooded by heavy rains and a very high water table. This fire truck is parked eastbound on Washington Street across from Dunkin Donuts, and you can see the water just below its bumper. The firefighters were trying to pump water out of the street and over the fence in a fruitless effort to lower the water level on the road.

The photo below right is the closed septic tank at Dunkin Donuts being lifted by the water. Houghton Pond is behind the parking lot at DD, but it was not flooding its edges. The flooding was from the rising water table. The ground was soaked to total saturation.

So what if even worse should happen here? Are we ready?

Houston TX thought it was ready, until Hurricane Harvey hit and officials and residents realized they weren't. A riveting article written in the New York Times magazine in August revealed the many ways in which systems collapsed and communications fell apart causing death and suffering. Armed with that information, this writer interviewed our local Disaster Management Director (and Fire Chief) Michael Cassidy on HCAT TV. He brought along Mikael Main, a MEMA official. (You can watch that interview here: https://www.hcattv.org/all-show-posts/2018/10/2/just-thinking-disaster-preparedness.)

My biggest concern after reading the NYT article was the 911 system. Apparently Houston and most places in the U.S. rely on an analog system rather than digital. The analog system collapsed in TX and was a siginicant complication in recovering stranded people. On an analog system, a 911 call is routed through a call center and then redirected to local emergency services. It's easy to see how the system would collapse.

Chief Cassidy told me, "Holliston was equipped to receive NextGen 911 calls several months ago with the installation of new equipment." (That's code for digital 911.)  Using digital technology and Geographic Information maps, cell phone calls are pinned by specific location and go right to the local Police Department.  And once the state is fully NextGen 911, an emergency call from a cell phone in Pittsfield would reach the Pittsfield police, as an example. If you want to know more about this system, https://www.mass.gov/service-details/massgis-and-nextgen-911

My other takeaways from the interview were:

1. Town officials and residents must be prepared to go 48 to 72 hours without state or federal help if the disaster is regional in nature. The good news is that Holliston, the region and state have extensive plans and they practice for disasters, and to be sure, Holliston has a plan as well.

2. In our homes, if the house is prone to flooding - make sure the sump pump is working, have back-up batteries for pump, and even have a duplicate back-up pump.

3. Pack grab 'n go bags for everyone in the household. Be sure to include medications and critical papers. Have a portable charger for your phones. Here's a link to what else to include - https://www.ready.gov/build-a-kit

The bottom line is that more and more weather disasters are likely in our future. The advice of Chief Cassidy is that we must change our mindset from thinking that someone will always be available to save us. Rescue is particularly challenging in situations that hit our region or the state as a whole. Officials are doing their jobs. Now we need to do ours to protect our families and ourselves.  

If you want to read the NYT article, which was absolutely riveting.
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/08/30/magazine/hurricane-harvey-houston-floods-texas-emergency.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fmagazine&action=click&contentCollection=magazine®ion=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=sectionfront

Photo below is Factory Pond dam on Woodland Street. Above right is Westfield Drive in Queens.

 

 

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