My Turn: Prepare to protect

Heavy rains flood Route 116 in Conway.

Heavy rains flood Route 116 in Conway. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By TOM WILLIAMS

Published: 09-13-2023 10:04 PM

Wildfires in Hawaii, dry river and lake beds in the West, extreme heat from Texas to Minnesota, torrential rains here in the Northeast and now a hurricane season that has already shown the type of property destruction and human misery it can bring.

Locally, we were pounded last March with heavy snow and suffered through torrential rains in July. Undoubtedly, we’ve not seen the last of these natural disasters. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts a hurricane season this year with storms of greater frequency, duration and devastating effects.

Experts are saying as many as five of these storms could become major hurricanes that reach Category 3, 4, or 5 with winds of 111 mph or greater. The likelihood of one or more of these devastating storms hitting New England has increased with rising sea surface temperatures.

There also is the occasional man-made disaster, such as train wrecks that spew harmful chemicals into our fragile environment. Tanker fires, although a rare occurrence, send toxic smoke into the atmosphere. Hazard chemical spills can prove deadly to both people and wildlife.

The recent rise in frequency and level of devastation of these natural and man-made disasters are challenging our country’s ability to effectively prepare for and respond to them. They have taxed our entire emergency management community. So … what are we going to do?

Being the good New Englanders we are and have been for centuries, we prepare ourselves and then respond with vigor. We look after ourselves and our neighbors as well. How we prepare and respond is the challenge that all of us as individuals can improve upon.

FEMA’s “Whole Community” concept focuses on preparedness being a shared responsibility. It calls for the involvement of everyone, not just government agencies. Individual responsibility includes staying informed, learning what to do before, during and after an emergency event, and getting involved in local emergency management activities.

Gov. Maura Healey has delivered a proclamation designating September as Emergency Preparation Month with the aim of highlighting the importance of emergency preparation and to encourage all of us to develop plans on how to respond to natural and man-made disasters. She states in her proclamation, “Emergency preparation is the responsibility of every resident of the Commonwealth, and families, individuals, organizations and communities are urged to make preparedness a priority and work together by creating or updating a disaster plan, building an emergency supply kit, and preparing homes and businesses for all types of emergencies.”

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Healey has directed state agencies to provide educational resources on disaster readiness. Online links to two of those resources are “Safety Tips for Threats and Hazards” at mass.gov/safety-tips-for-specific-threats-hazards and “Be Prepared for Emergencies”at mass.gov/be-prepared-for-emergencies.

At Mass.gov/Ready you will find emergency preparedness flyers in several languages and “Safety Tips for Specific Threats & Hazards.” All of these are great sources of very important lifesaving information. The governor’s goal is to equip us all with the knowledge needed to remain safe and secure.

Everyone is an important actor in emergency management in all five mission areas of a disaster, which are Prevention, Protection, Mitigation, Respond and Recovery. The two goals of emergency management are saving lives and protecting property. How can you prepare yourself to save your life or the lives of others and to protect your property and that in your community? I urge you to get involved and find out.

Tom Williams is the emergency management director in Shelburne.