Municipal planning, communication, family readiness and social service offerings were some of the emergency preparedness subjects covered at the annual town meeting in the auditorium Wednesday night.
Adam B. Libros, fire marshal and director of emergency management, and Claire M. Cote, senior and social services coordinator, presented information on the topic, the main focus of the meeting.
Libros referenced many storms and situations. In one of the night’s lighter moments he pointed to actions people likely took after last winter.
“Everyone have a roof rake now?” he asked.
But Libros quickly pointed out the safety concerns of such devices, such as one of his own friends who fell off a roof.
Later he answered a question about generators and the issues they can present. Putting them in a garage, house or other structure causes dangerous carbon monoxide infiltration or fires. Improperly wiring them to an electrical panel can cause danger to line workers during an outage, since they can "backfeed" power to the street.
Not surprisingly, preparedness and response during the October 2011 snowstorm and its aftermath was the discussion’s focal point.
Canton’s “assets,” such as police, volunteer firefighters and EMTs, public works department and many others are obviously a big part of such an event, Libros said. The town also has an emergency operations plan and prepares in various ways. Predicted events such as snowstorms and floods, involve pre-storm meetings, conference calls and preparation of supplies and equipment.
For “no warning” events, such as fires, preparation involves training and numerous drills to simulate various situations.
During larger emergencies, such as the storm, the town makes use of its Emergency Operations Center at the police station, where officials coordinate response coverage, meet with each other and work with other town staff and volunteers such as shelter managers. A Connecticut Light & Power liaison was also present during both Tropical Storm Irene and the snowstorm. Despite the criticism the company has received, that component is a big help, Libros said.
But no matter what the event, no two are the same and things aren’t always perfect, Libros aid.
“We can’t perfect our response,” Libros said.
The October storm, for example, presented challenges. One was communication. The town’s e-mail system was down, making it impossible to use its Q-notify alert system.
But many of the town’s past preparations did help during the storm, according to officials. Selectmen have praised the response of town emergency crews and staff. Libros pointed to another step by the town, installing a generator at the community center with the help of a $30,000 Northeast Utilities grant about a year and a half ago. It was a move he and predecessor (and former selectman) Bruce Lockwood had strongly advocated, Libros said.
“We’re glad its here,” Libros said. “This generator actually proved to be a lot better than expected during the storm.”
Cote said another action by the town was also crucial during the storm. In July of 2010, Canton created its own Social Services Department, after having contracted with Avon for the service.
Cote said she was grateful for having received that full-time job but said support and coordination, coordinating phone coverage and helping to run the town’s emergency shelter at the community center was a critical service that would have been much more challenging had the town still contracted for limited social-service hours.
Many challenges arose from the storm and people needed help dealing with the stresses or getting information.
“After eight days, we all had some emotional stuff to deal with,” she said. “We were happy to provide those services.”
While she said a shelter’s main priority is to provide “the basics,” aspects such as an army of volunteers, food donations and support and programming from the Canton Public Library, the Parks and Recreation Department and local teens were an immense help, Cote added.
She also discussed the way the shelter was able to provide services and keep information confidential yet find people and give them messages from loved ones.
In regards to the shelter, Libros also responded to a common question during the emergency — why not the high school? Some of the reasons he gave were the availability of the generator, working WiFi, air conditioning, a full kitchen, the library and social services. Also in emergencies getting schools up and running as soon as possible is a priority, allowing parents to get back to work and other benefits. Issues would also arise from mixing a school and shelter populations, he added.
Libros also review emergency preparations residents can take.
He said every home should have an emergency kit with the following:
- Flashlight and spare batteries
- Battery powered radio
- Non-perishable food
- Cell phone
- Change of clothing
- Important documents such as identification, insurance and emergency contacts
He also emphasized the emergency notification system at http://www.ctalert.gov, where residents can sign up and prioritize notifications via e-mail, text messaging and more. The town often uses the system for emergency or public safety incidents.
In addition to the shelter, Cote discussed other social service offerings. The department works with
- Federal and state assistance
- Temporary financial assistance
- Energy assistance for heat
- SNAP (food stamp) applications
- Medicaid and Medicare help
- Medical transportation for the elderly and disabled adults
- Home safety
- Home visits
- Short-term crisis intervention and counseling
- Referrals to other agencies
Libros and Cote also apprised residents of the town’s after-storm assessment efforts. As part of that, residents can attend participate in a meeting on shelter services at 7 p.m. on Tuesday Jan. 24 in Room F of the community center.
They also urged people to take the town’s storm survey.
In addition, residents were offered a booklet with emergency information. Copies are available in the land use office on the second floor of town hall.