Don’t Lose Power with Community Preparedness

by Jim Smith

While waiting at Town Hall Monday night (fully prepared for the scheduled Community Preparedness Committee meeting that must have been cancelled without notice) I decided to use the time to write about preparedness, a favorite topic. I’ve spent significant professional and personal time over the past 20 years in this arena; from my past and current work helping governments and utilities with the design, protection and recovery of critical infrastructure (primarily electricity and natural gas systems) to the efforts I have taken to improve the National Security of our country.

I recently had a conversation about proposed changes to the National Response Framework (created by FEMA and utilized nationwide at all levels). I thought it would be good to connect those changes to preparedness in New Castle.

‘Lifeline’ Indispensable Services

While governments, companies and individuals believe it is important to prepare for emergencies, most never feel adequately prepared.  The New Castle Preparedness Committee, a committee of resident volunteers, can help bridge that gap.  Preparedness and resiliency calls for a continual learning process to help us improve how we leverage local resources, improve communications, and identify best practices. 

“A secure and resilient nation with the capabilities required across the whole community to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from the threats and hazards that pose the greatest risk.”[1]

National Response Framework

The National Response Framework (NRF) is the guide for how our nation responds to disasters and emergencies.  It has been built out over the past decade by FEMA (following Hurricane Katrina) to help create a national culture of preparedness.  The NRF is currently undergoing its 4th update mainly to incorporate learning from the unprecedented 2017 hurricane and wildfire season. The update focuses on three areas

(1) an emphasis on nongovernmental capabilities including individuals and the private sector;

(2) a new support function to leverage existing coordination mechanisms; and

(3) a focus on an outcome-based response to life-saving/sustaining.

The NRF is focusing on how to deliver specific, indispensable services during an emergency.  These ‘lifelines’ can be tailored for New Castle.

‘Lifeline’ Sample Component Breakdown

Key Takeaways for New Castle

I wrote a few takeaways (not a complete list) relevant to New Castle.

  • Prevention, Protection, Mitigation, Response and Recovery is not any one group’s job.  It is critical that the groups best suited to work a particular problem become the center of that issue. No bottlenecks.
    • For example, the Red Cross should be at the center of food, water and shelter needs and through them the capabilities and assets of the community, such as organizing pizza for shelters from local restaurants, can be organized.  Government can help in coordinating additional information that impacts this category, such as “The grocery store in Millwood has reopened with limited operations, all stores in Chappaqua remain closed.  Some stores in Mt. Kisco are reopening but all major access roads remain closed, stores in Ossining and Pleasantville are mostly open but access remains difficult.  Public water systems remain operational for potable water, private water remains power-dependent.  One highway department truck remains available for transportation of supplies.”         
  • The New Castle Preparedness Committee composition should reflect the community and its key stakeholders to ensure we leverage existing coordination mechanisms: government, police, fire and ambulance representatives, groups like the Red Cross, CCSD, and large community and faith-based organizations.  A combination of expert stakeholders and residents is powerful.   
  • At the center of emergency management is monitoring the status of each lifeline component and communicating with the designated resources and alternative resources for adjustments to the plan as facts come in.  The committee and local government coordinators must be effective at collecting and synthesizing community information and vetting it for accuracy. 
    • For example, during recent major storms with widespread power outages in New Castle, coordination with Coned was not a passive exercise and the Town did a good job of pushing information back to Coned so they could adjust course.  Many residents want to see this communication strengthened.
  • Shared services and mutual aid agreements, even if informal, should be pursued. Having the ability to tap into additional resources in neighboring communities can be a force multiplier in a time of need. There must be a consolidated record of regional resources and assets and how to deploy them if required. 
  • Exercises. Plans might work on paper and in a conference room but not always in the confusion and limitations that an emergency brings.  Exercises to test plans should be conducted. Every emergency includes an initial effort to frame the problem, define the area affected, identify the lines of effort required to respond, etc.   
  • Tools.  Additional coordinating tools (apps and website development) may be useful for New Castle that would help track components of an emergency and the response as well as help exchange information with residents.  Complicated and expensive tools should be avoided given the type and scope of emergencies New Castle may experience.  Perhaps consider a partnership with CCSD for technology students to develop these tools and capabilities, or sponsor a competition.       

[1] The National Preparedness Goals specify five mission areas where the community can work together: Prevention, Protection, Mitigation, Response, and Recovery. Risks include events such as natural disasters, disease pandemics, chemical spills and other manmade hazards, terrorist attacks and cyber attacks.