Did you know…that every town in Vermont has an emergency management director? …that 223 towns in Vermont were impacted by Irene? …your dishwasher is a great way to waterproof valuables in your home in case of a flood?
These and other facts were presented by Max Kennedy from Vermont Emergency Management (VEM) who spoke at our fourth Monday (February 26) transition town meeting. Hailing from Underhill himself, Max spoke to a small group of people ranging from Bolton to Underhill and in between. Since things get more bureaucratic and expensive as you get bigger, i.e. the national guard and FEMA, Max said it’s best to solve emergencies at the local level. VEM is there to aid communities in this process.
Max informed us that all Vermont towns now have an emergency management director (EMD) as mandated by state law. In Jericho that person is Todd Odit, aka town administrator. Max said the EMD role is often held by the town administrator by default, or even the fire chief. The latter is least desirable since the fire chief is a first responder and the EMD is largely a coordinator role.
Max said that while emergency preparedness gets all the hype, it is mitigation, or reducing long term risk, that is vitally important. Indeed, VEM endeavors to promote mitigation efforts such as building culverts, burying power lines, avoiding building in floodplains. You might call mitigation the preventative medicine of emergency management.
“What energizes communities to be better prepared?” someone asked. Max said that experiencing a disaster firsthand is the best prep. After a disaster, VEM will come into a community and do what he called a ‘hot wash’ asking, “What happened? What can we do better next time?” He cited Swanton as the most recent example, a town still dealing with the repercussions of severe flooding in January.
In order to build a more resilient community you must start with preparedness among individuals and families. From there, a community can better organize and mobilize itself. Max cited a couple towns in Vermont that have begun mobilizing on a community level. In Bethel they have the “Citizen Plus” program which utilizes public education, geographic divisioning, and a volunteer network. In Duxbury they’ve established zones and presiding zone captains, who ultimately report back to the EMD.
Max mentioned helpful resources including Vermont 211 (vermont211.org) for information and referral. “They have answers for any situation,” he said. He also recommended Vermont Alert (vtalert.gov) for emergency notifications; everything from severe weather to traffic conditions to public health alerts. VEM itself offers ongoing trainings and provides a handy little notebook entitled “Family Emergency Preparedness” which offers practical advice for all situations, a must-have for all households.