(This document can be downloaded as a .pdf here: Rochester_Emergency_Plan)
Rochester Emergency Plan Draft
In 2015 the Select Board asked Robert Gardner to serve as Emergency Coordinator to review the town’s Emergency Management Plan and make recommendations if necessary.
After reviewing the plan and talking to a number of people, including Larry Strauss and Kevin Geiger, Senior Planner at TROC, two things became clear: first, the existing State/Federal plan was much too large and complex to be effective for a town of Rochester’s size and limited resources (as shown by the plan being virtually ignored during Irene) and second that the lessons of the town’s experiences surviving Irene were not recorded beyond the memories of everyone in town during the storm.
In response, Mr. Gardner reduced the original 14 critical management sections (or “Functional Areas”) of the State and Federal disaster management plans to 5, using suggested reductions originally provided to us by Kevin Geiger of TRORC and the input of other inquiries and research.
This five-part breakdown seems more within the capabilities of a village of Rochester’s size, with its volunteer fire department, part-time constables and part-time Select Board.
The critical areas are:
Infrastructure (roads, water, sewer)
- Emergency Services (fire and police)
- Incident Command (management and communications)
- Mass Care (shelter committee)
- Health and Medical (first aid, medical coordination)
Gardner recommended the creation of a Disaster Preparedness Committee based on the five critical areas, choosing people to head each area whose professional background and personal experiences could provide the foundation with which to apply the lessons of Irene to emergencies which may arise in the future. While we certainly hope an event of the scope Irene will not be repeated soon, the chance of other emergencies relating to ice, snow or wind, Hazmat events on Route 100, major fires, and other emergencies may very well arise and the town should do all it can to prepare for it.
Such a committee will need a lead volunteer for each critical area and an alternate as well, in case of the absence of the first member. People with dual experiences (someone from the fire department who also works on town infrastructure, for instance) could serve as the primary in one area and the alternate in another, which would reduce the overall size of the committee, and a smaller committee may be more effective and flexible than a larger one in case of a crisis.
Functional Areas, detail:
- Infrastructure (roads, water, sewer)
Public Works & Engineering – Provides debris clearance, repair, restoration and maintenance of roads and other essential infrastructure, and safety inspection of damaged buildings. Includes management and allocation of heavy equipment.
Energy – Coordinates with utilities during the emergency repair and restoration of gas, fuel, and electricity.
Transportation – Provides for coordination, control and allocation of transportation assets, such as trucks, buses, and boats.
- Emergency Services
Firefighting – Suppresses structural fires and wildfire or threats of fire, in co-ordination with the Forest Service where required. May also provide incident management assistance for on-scene incident command and control operations, including traffic control where applicable.
Search & Rescue (SAR) – Provides resources to locate and rescue persons lost outdoors or trapped in structures. Also may provide for specialized emergency response and rescue operations including search and rescue in confined space, trenches, ice, water, or high-angle environments, in association with the police.
Hazardous Materials – Provides response, inspection, containment and cleanup of hazardous materials accidents or releases.
Law Enforcement – Provides for the protection of life and property by enforcing laws, orders, and regulations, including the movement of persons from threatened or hazardous areas; provides for area security, traffic, and access control. (includes town Constables, State Police, and County Sheriff).
- Incident Command
Emergency Management, Recovery & Mitigation – Provides support to local Incident Commander(s); including overall coordination of the town’s emergency operations, collecting critical information on emergency operations for decision making purposes (including claims for property, injury and fatalities) and providing liaison with state/federal government in coordinating assistance, including timekeeping for resources and personnel where applicable.
Communications – Provides the capacity to communicate (phone, Internet, radios, etc). Includes public relations, radio systems
Public Information – Provides for effective collection of information from, and dissemination of information to, the media and general public on emergency conditions and available assistance; controls incident information to ensure accuracy; coordinates a system to minimize rumors and misinformation during an emergency.
Resource Support – Secures resources through mutual aid agreements or Memoranda of Understanding and procurement procedures for all critical areas, as needed. Provides for coordination and documentation of personnel, equipment, supplies, including food, facilities, and services used during disaster response and initial relief operations. Manages the receipt and distribution of donated goods and services; provides assistance in coordinating and managing volunteer resources. Providing IT support where applicable and coordinating the rationing and distribution of emergency generators and fuel.
Note — Liaison with the School should probably be handled by Incident Command unless it is felt that duty should be elsewhere or that the School should have its own critical area.
- Mass Care (Shelter Committee)
Mass Care, Food & Water – Manages and coordinates sheltering, feeding, and first aid for disaster victims. Identifies, secures, prepares, and/or arranges for distribution of safe food and water supplies [see under Incident Command/Resource Support] for mass feeding to affected areas following a disaster.
- Health and Medical
Health and Medical Services – Provides emergency care and treatment for the ill and injured; operates emergency medical facilities; provides public health services; and collects and identifies human remains. Also coordinates special medical/mental health needs shelters with Shelter Committee. Create and maintain a contact list of Nurses, EMT’s, Physicians in the area and a list of residence who might be particularly vulnerable due to age, infirmity or other limitations.
As described above, each of these functional areas would have a lead volunteer together with an alternate. Each alternate should be as informed as the lead volunteer, so they would be functionally interchangeable. The intent would be to identify people with genuine experience in each of these critical areas—both in the course of their ordinary life and work, and during Irene—who could suggest affordable and realistic actions the Select Board could take to improve on the town’s readiness and to prepare for any potential emergency. This is a way to make positive improvements based on the town’s direct experiences during Irene.
This group should probably only have to meet a couple of times a year, but would work together to keep the emergency planning current and to continue to evolve the thinking required to keep the town prepared. These meetings would be open to the town’s citizens in accordance with the Vermont’s Open Meeting laws, and would include a recording secretary.
We are asking that anyone interested in serving on this committee in any of the five critical areas, or who might suggest someone else, to send those suggested names—as well as any thoughts or ideas about the plan—to Robert Gardner, at 294 South Main Street, in Rochester, 05767 . We would prefer to have suggestions submitted on paper in order to keep a record clearer than telephone calls or emails. The Select Board will collect and review these names and suggestions and then select a list of people who will be asked to volunteer, if they are willing.
The real work of the committee will begin after the volunteers are selected and agree to serve and initial meetings begin. It is during these meetings that the precise details of the process will be hammered out and specific suggestions will be brought forward for the Select Board to consider. It is expected that these suggestions will reflect the experiences of the members during Irene specifically and based on their life experiences in the town generally and that these suggestions will be low cost, practical and realistic.
Because communication is essential in times of crisis, and because the larger borders of Rochester are fairly distant from the Command Center (the Town Office) Mr. Gardner also suggests that the Rochester town area be divided into neighborhoods (as the Fire Department already does) and that an emergency representative be chosen in each neighborhood. This person would be responsible to check on any neighbor who might be particularly vulnerable and alert the town if help were needed in case of power failure or weather related isolation. The suggestion is that each of these people be assigned a radio on the Fire Department’s frequency (if possible) using the repeater on North Hollow (a repeater which has its own generator). In case of the failure of landline phones or cell phones, these radios would allow each neighborhood to keep in touch with the Command Center and alert the town to any emergency needs.
These neighborhoods might be:
- The Village
- 100 North
- 100 South
- The Hawk
- West Rochester (73 and Bingo)
- North Hollow
The Next Step
This plan is preliminary and requires review and discussion in order to improve it. While most of the information in it derives from material either from the State or from Kevin Geiger at TROC, it was written by someone who is new to Rochester and who was not in the town during Irene. So it should be considered a talking paper, a work in progress.
It is expected that it will be reviewed and refined as more people commit to be involved and as the committee takes shape. We hope this sparks a lively discussion and the thoughtful input of the many people whose efforts during Irene helped the town to weather the storm as well as it did.