Prepared for Disaster in Cape Cod

The checklist should include three emergency contacts, two of whom should be located nearby and the third far enough away to be unaffected if the whole region is engulfed by disaster.

by Cynthia McCormick, Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass. / March 17, 2019

(TNS) - More practical — and perhaps more stylish — than the latest fashion handbag, a bright red emergency preparedness "go bag" distributed by the Department of Homeland Security might be even harder to land than next season's Fendi.

These red backpacks containing items from packets of water to hand-cranked radios are limited in distribution to senior citizens and people with disabilities who attend emergency preparedness training workshops, such as the one put on Wednesday afternoon at the office of the Cape Organization for Rights of the Disabled on Bassett Lane.

But while not everyone can get their hands on one of the DHS go bags, every adult on Cape Cod can learn to develop a response for dealing with natural disasters and other emergencies, said Barnstable police Lt. John Murphy, who attended Wednesday's program with Barnstable Police Sgt. Thomas Twomey.

"The most important thing is the preparedness part," Murphy said. "Get the message out. That is the goal of these types of programs."

"It doesn't matter what the disaster is," it's best to be prepared, said Evan George, emergency program coordinator with the Massachusetts Office on Disability, who put on the workshop at CORD.

George talked about the importance of creating an emergency checklist of medications, blood type and a doctor's name and phone number.

The checklist also should include three emergency contacts, two of whom should be located nearby and the third far enough away to be unaffected if the whole region is engulfed by disaster, Evans said.

People should inquire with their councils on aging about obtaining red "files of life" that include similar information to hang on refrigerator doors so first responders can spot them easily, George said.

He told the approximately 18 people attending the presentation that they can sign up for a free Alerts App that will inform them of emergency alerts wherever they are in Massachusetts, as well as a free Emergencies Mobile App that uses pictographs to enhance emergency communication for people with disabilities.

"This training all came out of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans" in 2005, when 1,800 people died, mainly senior citizens and people with disabilities, George said.

Since then, natural disasters and emergencies have not abated, George said, mentioning the tornadoes that touched down in Central Massachusetts last summer and the gas explosion that killed one person and set homes and businesses on fire in the Merrimack Valley in 2018.

In Massachusetts' coastal communities, "We're going to start getting flooding more and more," George said.

Transportation to emergency shelters can be an issue for the elderly people and those with disabilities who lack vehicles or do not drive.

The Cape Cod Regional Transportation Association has a shelter transportation system that drives people, their pets and bags to shelters in the event of emergencies, said Paula George, CCRTA deputy administrator of travel training.

During last year's nor'easters, the CCRTA bused almost 300 people to shelters, said George, who is not related to Evan George.

"Please don't wait until the water is at the door," she said. "At some point we pull our drivers and buses off the road when it becomes too dangerous."

A 911 disability locator helps first responders know who in the community needs extra supports during emergencies and disasters, Evan George said.

For instance, if a person indicates on the locator form that he or she is hard of hearing, police and fire officials know they can't just knock on a door and expect to get a response, he said.

In Barnstable, people can go to the police department and ask to speak to a telecommunications specialist to have the disability information entered in the system, Murphy said.

If 911 lines during an emergency are jammed, try dialing 211 to get information from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency on when to evacuate and when to shelter in place or leave shelter, George said.

Information can also be obtained by listening to WQRC 99.9 FM on the dial on Cape Cod, said Joseph P. Gordon, emergency management director for Barnstable County, who also attended the workshop.

Without a plan and a checklist, people panic, George said.

He told a story about a man who fled the California wildfires with only a Tom Brady jersey, a decision he said the man regretted when he was stuck on the highway for 40 hours with no food or water.

Toward the end of George's presentation, about 12 people got one of the red backpacks containing a first aid kit, hand warmers, a glow stick, whistle, can opener, shampoo, a combination radio and flashlight and tightly packed Mylar blankets and ponchos.

The bags also contained water packets and combination radio/flashlights with USB ports than could be hand cranked, albeit with a lot of effort, George said.

He suggested people also have nonperishable food on hand and place a copy of their emergency checklist with biographical information in a Ziploc bag inside the go bag.

Tina Munroe of Hyannis was one of the individuals who received a go bag.

"I got a lot of great information," she said.

— Follow Cynthia McCormick on Twitter: @Cmccormickcct.

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©2019 Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass.

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