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Essential to have an emergency preparednesss plan

  • DPW puts up the flood wall before the hurricane.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Fire department warns residents on Water street of the threat of flooding.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS

Emergency preparedness plans are much like wills and retirement savings: people acknowledge they are good things to do to prepare for the unexpected, but many don’t have them.

That is the analogy Rick Lee, director of the American Red Cross Pioneer Valley Chapter, uses when talking about why residents and businesses seem reluctant about creating an emergency preparedness plan.

Last year’s spate of destructive and unpredictable weather events, including the June 1 tornado and Oct. 29 snowstorm, served as a wake-up call for people in the area to create such a plan, say Lee and other local emergency officials.

“In part, our lives are too busy and at times stressful. When we do get a break, we don’t want to be thinking about dreadful things like losing our homes or being ill, injured or any of those things,” Lee said. “So, it takes something to move people off the dime.”

Joshua Shanley, emergency management coordinator and firefighter/paramedic for the Northampton Fire Department, said the most complicated issue emergency officials face with people in their affected areas is to get them to change their behavior, especially when they have not been the victim of a disaster.

“People appreciate the excellent services we and the Red Cross and other emergency personnel provide, but there is a gap between when an event happens and when services can respond,” Shanley said.

Last year, the gap was big, he said, because there were a lot of events and not enough resources available during all those periods of time.

“So, that’s what people really need to recognize. They need to be able to cover that period of time in the immediate aftermath of an event,” he said.

Not all events, such as the tornado, need to make national headlines to be devastating. The local Red Cross responds to more than 100 house fires a year. While serious - and even deadly - and people in those situations get displaced, the preparedness is pretty manageable, Lee said.

Residents and business owners should install smoke detectors, check the batteries twice a year and establish an escape route for occupants of a home or apartment or employees at a business, he said.

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