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Seniors look at emergency planning

BUCKLAND — Joanne Soroka of Buckland spent the days before and after Hurricane Sandy with her elderly parents, who live in the New York City area — a couple in their 80s with a generator and plenty of food and water.

“It was surprising how unprepared we ‘prepared’ people were,” said Soroka. “There was no power for 12 days. If you didn’t have food for nine days, the restaurants were closed.”

“It was shocking how ill-prepared we were. We were cold, we were hungry and we couldn’t go anywhere.”

After Sandy, there were few gas stations open with fuel available, said Soroka. “I sat in a three-hour (gasoline) line seven days after the storm, when a fuel truck finally showed up.”

A group of about 18 West County residents, mostly over age 55, met in the Mary Lyon Church Social Hall Wednesday to discuss emergency planning, in the first of a series of “Conversation Cafes” hosted by the Buckland Council on Aging, in collaboration with the Senior Center.

With bowls of hot soup and fresh-baked bread, they discussed steps to be taken long before the emergency happens.

Alan Young, who lives in the Clesson Brook area of Buckland, remembered a storm in 1989 that turned the road to his house “into a river.” In a way, he said, “I thought it was amusing. But Irene was a different experience. We do keep water on hand, we have dried foods — and we barely missed being (cut-off by water).”

He said neighbors who couldn’t get out of their homes, due to impassable roads, had to walk across to neighbors, to borrow cars or rides. Young said he passed his generator around, to give those without one some reprieve from the lack of electricity. There were outdoor barbecues, where people cooked and shared what had been in their freezers, and there were welfare checks on people who might need help.

Young said he favors “fierce independence — but that borders on stupidity in that situation, when life can be made easier by working together.”

Planning ahead

“Planning ahead as much as possible can benefit you in the long run,” said Larry Bernier, a full-time firefighter with the Shelburne Falls Fire District and an EMT. With the exception of the October 2011 “Halloween snowstorm,” he said, forecasts generally give people a little advance notice to stock food, charge their cell phones and fill their vehicle fuel tanks.

He also suggested filling bottles with tap water, so that you have a supply of clean drinking water, and even filling the bathtub with water, for other purposes, such as flushing toilets.

Bernier recommended putting all the medications you take in one spot, if you have to grab them and leave, during an emergency or an evacuation.

After your cell phone is charged, he said, turn it off, so that it will be usable for as long as possible.

“Have all your phone contact numbers written down, and have a place ready where you can go to if you need to (evacuate) your home,” he said. “Have mutiple places,” he added, in case some of those are inaccessible or are facing the same emergency conditions.”

In weather events, he said, most of the fatalities are people on the roads, with trees coming down or road washouts. But after the storm, the greatest fatality risk comes from carbon monoxide from generators.

Emergency Management Director Arthur H. Phillips suggested people pack what they need in a plastic storage box that they can easily take with them if they need to evacuate a home.

‘Buddy system’ and what’s ahead

Phillips said the town’s Reverse E-911 system, which began a week before Tropical Storm Irene, was a great help in getting people prepared for what came.

“We were lucky we didn’t lose power all over town,” he said. He said people in Upper Buckland and the Clesson Brook section have generators and knew to stockpile food and provisions. But if power had been out for several days in Shelburne Falls, he said, fewer people in the village area would have known what to do.

Ellen Eller of Buckland suggested forming a “buddy system,” a network in which one person checked on another during such a storm as Irene.

Phillips said the town is looking at places that could serve as possible emergency centers, should another Irene occur.

Currently, he said, they are considering setting up Town Hall to take residents in from the village area and the Mary Lyon Hall for upper Buckland residents.

This spring, he said, they hope to find residents who would be willing to run an emergency shelter, and to train them for that responsibility.

Phillips said he would like to get more HAM radio operators into the emergency response planning, because it was through such radio communication that the National Guard and other assistance came.

Suggestions raised around the table included:

∎  Forming a buyers group for emergency preparedness items, such as batteries, hand-crank radios and food items.

∎  Pet-owners having emergency rations on hand. (Because if they are evacuated with pets, pet food is unlikely to be available at a shelter).

∎  Making arrangements before the emergency to check on neighbors living in remote areas.

∎  Displaying home address numbers clearly on mailboxes and in ways easily visible from the road.

∎  Putting old-fashioned plug-in phones into land-line phone jacks, so that even if the power goes out, you can still have phone access.

It was noted that not everyone’s telephone number is in the public phone books, so the suggestion was to have such phone numbers on paper, and accessible in emergencies.

Senior Center Director Cathy Buntin said “File of Life” medical information forms are available from the Senior Center, and should be filled out, listing prescription medications, medical conditions and allergies, and emergency contact phone numbers. These forms include a wallet form and a larger form to be placed on refrigerators.

The next Conversation Cafe will be on the subject of “scams,” and it will take place in late April, at a time and place to be announced.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at:
dbronc@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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