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Tropical Storm Irene tested many towns’ emergency response plans. While most performed admirably—providing sound guidance to emergency managers throughout the storm and afterwards—some plans proved to be insufficient. In some cases, plans did not foresee the extent to which towns would be self-reliant in an emergency; in others, plans did not anticipate communication difficulties, resource constraints, or other challenges.
Because of these difficulties, many towns are now reviewing their local Basic Emergency Operations Plans (BEOPs) to ensure that operations flow more smoothly during future emergencies.
All-Hazard Mitigation Plans (typically drafted with the assistance of regional planning commissions or Local Emergency Planning Committees) provide an ideal starting point as they outline, in detail, the hazards that a community may face. Towns can use these assessments to tailor their Basic Emergency Operations Plans to a number of different scenarios; to be safe, municipalities should assume that resources and outside help will be limited and communication will be difficult in any emergency. Based on feedback received at community listening sessions to date, getting emergency managers to envision and practice these worst-case scenarios before they happen will help refine and enhance BEOPs and ensure more resilient communities.
Communities can also leverage volunteers and civic organizations as another means to improve emergency response. Vermonters’ volunteerism after Tropical Storm Irene significantly enhanced the resiliency and self-sufficiency of many communities. Local Basic Emergency Operations Plans should include these groups and make sure that their considerable resources are utilized effectively.
In particular, towns can seek to build and sustain Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) that warn or help evacuate residents, provide basic first aid and search and rescue, and coordinate other volunteer efforts.
The best emergency response plans are living documents. As noted above, continual refinements and constant practice aid emergency managers foresee challenges and prepare in advance.
Bob Weinert, Emergency Management Coordinator
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