Disaster response reviewed

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Rector city officials and concerned citizens held a special meeting Thursday, Feb. 26, to discuss ways the entire community can work together to improve the city's level of preparedness in an emergency situation much like the recent ice storm.

Mayor Ron Kemp, police chief Glenn Leach, recorder/treasurer Lowell McKenney and city council members David Freeman, Teresa Roofe and Cam Cate were joined by community members Nate Henderson, Kim Romine, Ken Roden, Ardell Polk, Betty Benson, Steven Sigsby, Judy Leach, Velda Bell and Joel Hayes.

The meeting arose from a suggestion by Freeman during the February city council meeting.

"The purpose of the meeting was to examine steps we could take to make our emergency response even better for the next time," Freeman said.

Though its goal was to lead to improvements in preparation and overall effectiveness, organizers of the meeting were quick to point out the strong sense of unity the community shared during the extended power outage as a result of the ice storm.

"I thought our Rector response to the ice storm was excellent in the first place," Freeman said. "The whole town came together and took care of each other. It was an incredible testament to our town and the kind of people who live here."

The gathered group shared several ideas on what steps could be taken to improve the city's level of preparedness. Among the suggestions was purchasing generators for the armory, medical clinics, lift station and fire station.

Since the community center served as the main shelter due to its accessibility and presence of a generator, mayor Kemp suggested installing showers at the site. Sigsby also suggested installing CO2 detectors for both the community center and city hall.

Other suggestions included: city officials, employees and emergency personnel taking FEMA classes; better organization of volunteer kitchen staff and supplies needed or used; installation of additional phone jacks throughout the city hall complex to allow more phones to be brought in for an operational command center; updating the community center's kitchen supplies and utensils; a more detailed plan for the distribution of non-perishable food to residents; a supply of cots and blankets to be stored at the community center; having a back-up team of volunteers in place for an extended disaster; planning a sick call/triage time in the event the shelter is used again; the identification of additional shelter sites should the community center be unable to accommodate everyone or not be usable; advance training for disaster sites; an improved map of the city and surrounding areas; telephone notification system; a plan for the command center staffing and equipment; equipping churches as shelters; periodic updates of the city's disaster plan; inviting the Red Cross to Rector to train residents on disaster preparedness; hosting generator safety courses; purchasing large tents in the event all proposed shelters were compromised; updating current first aid equipment; creating a list of all medical personnel who live in town; making a fuel plan for emergency vehicles and generators; appointing someone to oversee the distribution of donated items and seeking needed items; creating a priority list for determining where large generators are needed and what supplies are required for installation; formulating a list of area farmers and residents who own large or heavy equipment that would volunteer time and equipment to help clear roadways; making a public information list available to the community; implementing a planned curfew; designating air drop sites for the Red Cross; distributing first aid kits to residents; creating a short-term plan for restoring power to gas stations; having hand pumps to retrieve fuel from gas station reservoirs; having bottled water and other supplies in place at shelters prior to need; a cooling system in place to store perishable items; forming a mutual aid agreement with other towns; using the Rector Sportswear building for other shelter needs such as food distribution and materials storage; making a potential emergency medical supplies list and coordinating efforts with other medical clinics; having defined symbols when canvassing the town; noting a priority equipment list in the emergency disaster plan; pouring a concrete pad on the east side of the community center where the double doors are located to assist with delivery of supplies or equipment; creating a list of available plumbers and electricians, and offer information and applications for grant programs.

While it would be difficult for a small town like Rector to implement all of the suggestions noted, organizers agree that many of the steps could be taken and likely would yield improvements to the community's overall level of emergency readiness.

As such, Freeman is asking all residents to look over the list of suggestions and determine which three recommendations are of the highest priority.

The city council will further discuss the matter during Monday's 6 p.m. meeting at city hall.

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