Every since the mid-to-late 1980s when the threat of the cold war ended, communities began to store their emergency plans in the back room filing cabinet. But following 9-11 these plans began to surface and now, over two years later there isn't a day that goes by when we don't hear about the threat of a terrorist attack or the importance of updating community emergency preparedness.
We must admit that to a degree we live in a "it will never happen to me syndrome." I think that it's just part of our makeup. And it seldom does happen. I can count the number of disasters I have been involved in on one hand. But it only takes one to change a family or devastate a community.
I remember the day Amtrack derailed in Northern Montana and left 87 people bleeding and injured along a remote stretch of Highway 2. The confusion of that rescue will forever be etched in my mind. And in 1992 when living in Klamath Falls, Ore. a 6.5 earthquake struck just outside the city. Buildings collapsed, people were killed, electricity was out and panic ran rampart as the emergency crews began the cleanup and rescue efforts.
Do you think the people in the World Trade centers had any thought that planes would come crashing through there walls when they were getting dressed that morning in September? Or how about the commuter trains in Madrid a couple months ago. Do you think they had any idea that bombs would soon destroy their way of getting to work? Or even this week's floods in Illinois? We have no idea what type of a disaster will strike, nor when it will happen.
It seems as though disasters come in many different forms in this day and age. We are all familiar with the natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, fires or severe wind storms. These could strike at anytime.
The transporting of toxic material, either by train or truck, through our county, day and night, is one of my biggest fears.
And what about disease? According to local health officials we are long overdue for a severe outbreak of a flu epidemic. Some of these strains have not even been identified yet. We are warned daily about the terrorist chatter and what might be happening even as you read this.
I believe its a matter of when, not if, terrorists will strike again in America. Will it be in a large stadium, against a dam, a skyscraper, an airport, or a train station? How about our gas lines or power plants? Or maybe it could be even as subtle as putting toxic or poisonous material in the ventilation systems or food supplies of small town nursing homes or hospitals just to test their theories?
I am not a paranoid person nor do I worry about these possibilities on a regular basis. But the potential of what groups of terrorists are capable of pulling off becomes more real every day.
The table talk workshop that I reported on last week was another eye opener for me on the importance of continuing the efforts of developing emergency plans. We could be alone in dealing with an emergency for at least 72 hours should such an event strike the area. We must be more self reliant.
Locally CERT volunteers are constantly being trained and once certified they will be easily identified in their green helmets and vests. They are being taught basic first aid and various levels of search and rescue. These people are coming forward from neighborhoods all over the county to be trained as first respondents. The CERT groups are trained to do the greatest good for the greatest numbers. Once on a scene they divide the victims based on their need for help.
I didn't realize that 13.3 percent of Carbon county's residents were over 65 years old, which adds up to over 2600 people. And another 4263 people have been identified as people with special needs or disabilities. This means that over 7000 people or around 35 percent of our community could potentially need special treatment should an evacuation be necessary. Currently a data base is being created to identify these people with special needs. A geographical information system is being developed to tie into this data base so that addresses will be easy to find, and their special problems will be noted.
As we move forward it is important to have evacuation plans in place, not only for our homes, schools, churches but businesses as well.
What plans should we have for communications if power goes out and our phone systems are powered by electricity?
Should we be having community drills or seminars discussing methods of warning the public if an emergency should occur?
This is a huge issue and many people are working step by step to identify the concerns, create emergency plans, and network within the communities to partner with other agencies and individuals. If something happens and we are not ready, then it will be too late.
So many things have changed in our communities since the last large push for emergency plans, designed during the cold war era. Communication systems are vastly different, and we rely on computers for almost everything.
Most people think it is just the fire and police forces that form emergency response teams, but the health departments in the state are quickly becoming an important partner in this race for time. All agencies of the government are working closer together to analyze the needs and develop systems.
But the final component to all these plans is you. We all must be aware, involved, interested and willing to step to the plate to understand the dangers and start working towards the solutions, one at a time.