We had a great discussion at our August 26 meeting about disaster preparation. John Ward was going to be with us to share valuable information about the Clay County Emergency Operations Center and how we should prepare for emergencies. John called me the night before the meeting saying that he was unable to join us. While Shaping Clay was meeting Friday morning, the Emergency Operations Center was leading a team of volunteers out looking for a missing gentleman in the Jennings State Forest.
Days later we were hit by Hurricane Hermine which resulted in activation of our Emergency Operations Center. As the storm approached teams were briefed regularly about progress of the hurricane via conference calls. The center was mobilized and teams were called to be onsite overnight to prepare for our emergency response. Based on John’s week, we found out that our county needs to be ready to respond to a variety of emergencies, not just hurricanes. This view was definitely reinforced at our Shaping Clay meeting discussion.
Tiffany from the PACE Center For Girls let us know that after her organization developed their emergency response plan, they convened a meeting at their site to review the Plan. Meeting attendees included John Ward (Emergency Operations Center), Bruce Harvin (Coordinator of Operations Safety and Security for the Clay County Schools), the Fire Marshall, and someone from the Sheriff’s office. Feedback from the group gave PACE some specific actions that they could implement and add to their plan.
Even with all the work PACE did on their Plan, they encountered a situation that was very unnerving. Last year during the Green Cove Springs active shooting incident, they were not informed at the beginning of the incident. They almost put girls on a bus that was going to drop them off in Green Cove Springs in the area that was on lockdown. We discussed the possibility that other organizations such as charter and independent schools may also not be in the communication network.
This lead to comments by Allie from Big Brothers / Big Sisters. She asked how do we get the word out about an impending disaster to people who don’t have access to TV or the Internet; and she knows that this is not a hypothetical situation. She recommended that we make sure that our communication network includes text messages to people without TV and Internet. Another observation was that sometimes the leaders of an organization have received a communication, but may not have effectively and efficiently communicated the message to people within their organization such as employees and clients.
Patricia from the Florida Department of Health / Clay County reinforced what Allie shared with us. Outside the Department of Health building in Green Cove Springs during the active shooter lockdown, people were walking around. They had not heard what was going on. How do we let people know what’s going on? Jose, also from the Department of Health raised the issue of what happens when a physical building is affected? Who gets it and out of the building? He was surprised that during the lockdown some people were sent out of the Department of Health building. Also employees who were coming in from lunch or a meeting weren’t allowed in. What are they supposed to do?
Ron from the Florida Youth Challenge Academy which is based at Camp Blanding gave us an overview of the program. At-risk youth are lead, trained, and mentored through a highly disciplined and motivational environment. The students volunteer to participate in the program. They spend the first 5 1/2 months at Camp Blanding taking classes. The balance of the program is 12 months, where they return home and work with a mentor. We wondered if this program could be tied more closely into emergency preparation.
Mo from United Healthcare attended to find out how other organizations are dealing with emergency preparation and consider if there are any roles that his organization could play that they don’t already.
Vicky who has retired from the military is starting a business to teach CPR skills to individuals and organizations. She also teaches swimming and is active in the Striders group. There are probably a number of ways that Vicki can connect with groups to help them be prepared for an emergency.
Patty from Quigley House noted that while they have an Emergency Plan in place they too were not notified early on about the active shooter in Green Cove Springs. It seems that there are groups still in the ‘gray zone’ that are not in a direct communication network. She also brought up another emergency that many of us don’t think about. The Quigley House Shelter was hit by lightning which caused an electric outage and took out some of their equipment.
Doug from Clay Literacy raised the topic of personal safety. He has tutors who volunteer and are out in the community. He stresses to them the importance of meeting their students in a public place, not lending them money, and not letting them into your personal car. There were other topics that Doug thought should be covered to prepare for an emergency, such as how to deal with someone who is hostile.
Kyle wears two hats. He is with Community Hospice and is a member of the Orange Park Fire Rescue organization. His major concern is how do we get the word out – both in how to prepare for a disaster and how we should respond during and after a disaster.
Amy from the Reinhold Foundation is concerned about sustainability of organizations, especially the smaller nonprofits in the face of an emergency. What mechanisms are there to share information, to get the word out? How do we raise awareness that being prepared for an emergency is more than getting ready for a hurricane?
Karen from Shaping Clay noted that there may be a role for students (K – college) in preparing and distributing messages about emergency preparation to the community. For example, one grade at our elementary schools has an annual poster contest about the importance of spaying and neutering. Maybe another grade could create emergency preparation posters if they are not already going this. Multidisciplinary projects could involve students in our Career Academies using their language art, performing and visual arts, and business skills.
Some ideas that were floated during the meeting included:
Could we disseminate information about emergency preparation at Homeowners Association meetings?
Can we distribute information about how those of us with pets should prepare for an emergency? We could distribute appropriate information to vets, animal shelters, and pet stores. The Orange Park High School is the Clay shelter that accepts pets. People need to know what to bring with them and their pet. What pets are not allowed? What proof of immunizations need to presented? What other things need to be brought?
Can organizations such as the Department of Health and the Sheriff’s Office hold workshops for residents about emergency preparation?
There is still the open question of how do we communicate with those in our community who are most vulnerable. What is in the Section 8 package of materials? Could emergency preparation tips be added if not already there?
How can we get businesses more involved in the process? What role do our libraries play? We need to reach people where and how they hang out. Is communication being coordinated between our fantastic network of health providers – hospitals, clinics, doctors, pharmacies, etc.?
If you were with us at the meeting what would you have contributed?
Please join us at our next Shaping Clay meeting where we are going to take this discussion on emergency preparation to the next level. We need more organizations to participate in this discussion, so please plan to join us on September 30, 8:30 – 10:30 at Saint Vincent’s in Middleburg.