In a sign of the turbulent times, health and safety officials in tiny Norwell are urging residents to have a plan in place to protect their homes and businesses against sudden disaster.
The topic of unexpected calamity is of growing interest in Massachusetts: Governor Deval Patrick has repeatedly warned citizens to be prepared to deal with a variety of situations, including floods, blizzards, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, hazardous material events, nuclear power accidents, utility emergencies, dam failures, water supply problems, and civil disorder. Patrick even declared September “Emergency Preparedness Month” as part of a national and statewide efforts to educate citizens.
Now a community discussion is kicking off in Norwell — population just over 10,000 — with a Jan. 17 evening workshop at the high school, cosponsored by local businesses and emergency management, titled “What Every Business and Citizen Should Know About Planning for When Calamity Strikes.”
“This seminar has really caught fire,” said Norwell Fire Chief Andrew Reardon, also the director of emergency preparedness in town. He said severe weather in recent years, including Tropical Storm Irene and Hurricane Sandy, highlighted a need to help the community respond to such events.
The program is also necessary because of “the horrific event in our neighboring Connecticut,” says the event announcement by the Norwell Chamber of Commerce, referring to the Dec. 14 slaying of 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
Peter Judge, spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, said local initiatives such as the session in Norwell could inspire a trend. He said the town of Wareham also recently held a disaster preparedness session.
In Amherst, Earthworks Programs, a survivalist training organization, is offering an unofficial emergency preparedness seminar, also on Jan. 17, focused on dealing with extreme weather, power outages, and finding shelter, water, fire, and food in the wilderness.
“These conversations are community-initiated,’’ said Judge. “There are no indications right now that this is going to be a regular thing, but that could very well change.”
At the Norwell workshop, attendees will learn about public safety and health resources; practical insurance and financial tools for personal, home, and business assets; computer protection devices; and physical and environmental safeguards. Speakers will include the local police chief, local business and health care leaders, and a representative from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.
Residents are anxious to discuss the issue of preparedness on many levels, said Reardon. “When we declare a state of emergency in a small town, I need to get my residents and businesses back up and operational. I need them to know what to do.”
Meg Doherty, chief executive officer of the Norwell Visiting Nurses Association and Hospice, who is scheduled to speak at the event, added: “If you are a parent, given the shooting that went on in Newtown, wouldn’t you want to know what we are doing to protect the public safety of our children?”
Reardon said he has talked with fire chiefs and emergency management officials across the state and country; among other things, they agreed that smaller businesses are oftentimes at a loss following a disaster.
“When one of these events occurs, and we are trying to get back to normal, what steps do you take if your restaurant has been wiped out? People need to know how to get back on track and what kind of support is available,” he said.
New scientific research has suggested that global warming is causing the cycle of evaporation and rainfall over the oceans to intensify, which experts have said may indicate a higher potential for extreme weather in the years ahead.
The shift in weather patterns over the last few years means communities need strategies to deal with a new reality, said Reardon. “I do think we are going to run into more climatological changes, and, from an emergency management standpoint, we need to be prepared,” he said.
The discussion in Norwell will heighten awareness about risks and resources, said Doherty.
Doherty said the town must be prepared to act locally because federal and state resources might not reach citizens for up to 72 hours in the case of a sudden disaster.
“It behooves us as community members to be as well trained as possible. Depending on the disaster, we don’t know how long we are going to be on our own,” she said.
Doherty said public health and safety had taken a back seat for a long time, but now because of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and devastating storms like Sandy, the public will see “a lot more effort put into these things.”
Mike Hertz, owner of Soho Systems, a computer service and consulting company in Norwell, said preparedness is indeed becoming a hot topic.
Hertz said he will present ideas at the Norwell event to help small businesses protect their computers and data in a disaster scenario.