The roles of intuition, history and technology in emergency preparedness

Expect the unexpected. That’s the mantra of emergency planners and responders. It’s one of the guiding principles of their professions. Sometimes, though, we get a clue about what might be in the pipeline from incidents that can guide us in the direction of preparing for unusual circumstances, if we heed them.

Norwich, N.Y., for example, is a small city situated in a valley at the convergence of two rivers. Flooding isn’t uncommon in Norwich and has occurred during every season. Not unlike cities across the Appalachians and all along the Mississippi, so-called 100-year floods in Norwich have long been integrated with gusto into local lore and engraved on wooden or cement markers for grandparents to point out to grandchildren.

But repeated, excessive flooding in the town prompted emergency manager A. Wesley Jones to wonder if maybe the worst was yet to come — and if it could be avoided.

Given the geography of the town, preventing major floods isn’t a viable option. So Jones instead directed the town’s attention toward new technology that cannot only register the height of creeks and rivers electronically, but transmit that information instantaneously to alert personnel who monitor emergency management data.

In some cases, electronic monitoring of waterway levels can even indicate that a severe situation has developed before it registers with the naked eye. That’s what happened in Norwich in 2011, when a second 100-year flood in two years hit the area. The city’s mayor believes that lives and property were both saved because the gauges registered a deadly change in one of the waterways before anyone could see a significant rise in the water level. See our story in this issue of The Municipal for all the details.

Recent rumblings along the lackluster New Madrid fault line have schools in Northern Indiana, of all places, practicing earthquake drills. I thought that was funny, until I talked to officials in Norwich.

No municipality has the funds to prepare perfectly for every possible and sometimes far-flung eventuality. But advances in science and technology make it possible for cities to be far better prepared than in the past and to react quickly to whatever does occur. I hope city leaders use a combination of history, modern technology and common sense to implement the means that are at their disposal to protect their residents from what’s coming down that pipeline.

Jodi Magallanes - Editor of The MunicipalJodi Magallanes
Editor


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