Sandy came to visit last week. She didn’t stay long, but during her visit the treacherous winds that came with her reminded people in our readership area of what a large-scale storm can do. We are fortunate that Sandy’s predicted 8 to 10 inches of rain didn’t fall here.
Our region has had its share of storms over the past few decades; some worse than Sandy. Most people in our four-county corner of the Commonwealth, where Berks, Bucks, Lehigh and Montgomery counties meet, lost electricity for a period of time during this latest storm. As of this writing, there are still some without power.
After being ravaged by Sandy’s 40-mph sustained winds and 60-mph gusts on Monday night, Tuesday morning revealed a surreal image of our region. While we were spared the worst of Sandy’s wrath, our region still became a maze of roads to nowhere, with downed trees and power lines blocking streets, creating frustration and confusion for drivers. An eerie darkness greeted powerless neighborhoods as residents wandered out to see the damage that Sandy wrought.
The roofs of several area buildings were ripped off and flung into neighbors’ yards. Others were gone completely with no hint of their final destination.
From August through of October of last year we felt the earth shake, endured Hurricane Irene and shoveled our way out of a Halloween snowstorm. A year later we experienced Sandy.
Our municipal workers and emergency service personnel did a yeoman’s job while serving the people of our communities during the storm.
Now is the time for our local, municipal leaders to review what went right and what could have been done better. With the onset of the winter season, they would do well to meet and critique their efforts as a governing body. Where they prepared? Did they have a plan? Was the plan communicated to the public? Where services curtailed during the emergency? Were municipal government representatives available to the public during the crisis? Were actions during the emergency communicated effectively to the public? How was the community kept “in the loop” during the storm?
As the saying goes, “Hindsight is 20-20.” But that’s what makes good future plans. Take what you learned today and keep the good and improve where you can.
One item that many expressed is the lack of a local shelter where people displaced by the storm could warm up, get a hot meal and a little sleep. If any exist, they weren’t in operation. If they were in operation, few knew about it.
We have a regional planning commission in place. Why not have a regional disaster planning and recovery commission in place made up of our local emergency management coordinators?
Municipal leaders should be encouraged to direct their emergency management coordinators to meet with their peers from neighboring communities and establish a community-wide plan that would house victims during disaster situations. Establish a written plan of action and communicate it to the public. Then, when an emergency strikes, execute the plan.
It can be cost effective. Use an existing, suitable building and pool municipal resources for any purchases required. Seek grants for cots. Instead of stocking food items, team with a local food bank during emergencies. There are many religious and community organizations that would be willing to provide volunteers to staff the sites during storms and power outages and help keep victims safe.
Now is the time to learn from the past and prepare for the future.