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Officials give OK to develop disaster plan

| Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013, 2:16 a.m.

Clairton officials have given a green light for the Conscience Group Corp. to develop a Disaster Resilient Emergency Management Awareness system in the city.

A one-year contract that offers the organization free space in city hall was approved Tuesday in a 4-0 vote, with outgoing Councilman Terry Julian absent.

“(The contract) does spell out what the city's participation in it would be,” city manager Howard Bednar said. “It will be reviewed after that time frame.”

The Disaster Resilient Emergency Management Awareness concept, also known as as DREMA, has been the subject of controversy for the last few months as Conscience Group president David Adams sought support from officials, clergy and residents.

The idea resulted from President Obama's emphasis on disaster resilience as a national imperative based on a report by the National Academy of Sciences.

Adams' program works directly with residents of distressed socio-economic communities, he said, thereby improving the chances of those who may be forgotten in the case of a local or national disaster.

He hopes Clairton can be a pilot site for what could become a national initiative.

“This is a national public service model that we want to build here in Clairton,” he said at a Nov. 19 meeting. “We're here to help you, and it's clear that you understand we are not here to ask you for a thing. This is not a financially driven strategy.”

While the concept seems to be one that can benefit the city and other Mon Valley communities, residents are skeptical.

Adams and Marie Blair, a representative of Conscience Group Corp., emphasized the need for aid to predominantly black, low-income communities that have socio-economic stresses not common in other places. They cited drugs, violence and the dependency on government aid for food and other subsidies.

“Disaster preparedness has changed,” Blair said. “The government is saying we can't afford it anymore and that citizens are going to have to take care of themselves at some point. We have to make sure citizens are prepared before a disaster comes instead of reacting to it.”

Because a handful of residents and clergy were confused by Adams' proposal, a meeting last month was a chance to have their questions answered. Many were not satisfied with the presentation.

Art Thomas, a Clairton resident for more than 60 years, was the only resident to speak out on Tuesday. He was among those who attended last month's meeting.

“I felt like I was buying my first used car or something,” Thomas said. “(Adams) had me worried about the Mon River rising up and me standing on a rooftop waving a flag.”

Thomas said officials should have a network of communication in the event of any disaster, and that the city shouldn't have to rely on an outside organization.

Mayor Rich Lattanzi said he's happy to see the city moving forward despite the confusion.

“The model or the program itself was somewhat confusing in terms of the outlook and goals, but it's a great opportunity for the city of Clairton,” Lattanzi said. “At a minimum, we are going to educate the citizens of Clairton on how to be prepared and what resources they can use.”

If an organization offers to help Clairton residents, the mayor said, it's only fair to allow the group to try.

“I'm up in the air about it, but I'm not going to vote ‘no' now,” Councilman Richard L. Ford III said on Tuesday. “I want to see how it does in its first year.”

Deputy Mayor Kathy Tachoir echoed Ford's sentiment, noting she wants to give the project a chance to thrive.

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1956, or jvertullo@tribweb.com.

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