Emergency-preparedness group sets up shop in Clairton
The Conscience Group Corp. is recruiting Clairton residents to be proactive in preparing for emergencies by forming a citizen-based initiative for disaster resiliency.
Building what they hope will be a national model for disaster resilience, Conscience Group officials are headquartering their Disaster Resiliency Emergency Management Awareness outreach at Clairton City Hall. The organization has a one-year agreement to use the space for conducting research in partnership with residents and government.
The DREMA concept is based on federally identified gaps that heighten vulnerability to natural or man-made disaster.
Conscience Group Corp. president David Adams said social barriers such as economic disadvantages and chronic criminal activity can impact the ability of governments and residents to prepare for, recover from and adapt to adverse conditions brought on by emergencies.
In Southwestern Pennsylvania, and particularly in the Mon Valley, Adams said communities can work toward being resilient in the event of a disaster by identifying their own needs and forming extensions that mesh with existing emergency plans. That means teaching residents to be self-sufficient in their everyday lives as well as in a disaster.
Clairton is an ideal location to test a community's willingness to become disaster-resilient, not because of threats more common in flood or tornado-prone areas, but because of the socioeconomic conditions brought on by a declining economy and increasing drug activity.
“This city, like many other places, is doing the wrong thing right,” Adams said. “We need them to at least try to do the right things wrong before we can work toward doing the right things right.”
DREMA's potential for success requires a “triangular support approach” involving cooperation from residents, government officials and law enforcement.
“These three entities need to work like a well-oiled machine,” Adams said. “Without these three entities working together, if even one component is missing, problems cannot be solved.”
Adams' push for disaster resilience is based on President Obama's reaction to a report by the National Academy of Sciences, which approached the topic as a national imperative. Social scientists and other experts reviewed the ability of communities to respond to local and national disasters and identified barriers that could prevent them from helping themselves before emergency responders could come to their aid.
The Conscience Group Corp.'s DREMA office in Clairton will be the first in the nation to operate solely for the purpose of establishing a disaster-resilient community, Adams said. While other agencies are working with the topic, he said there does not appear to be an office of this kind elsewhere.
If the concept takes off locally, he said, Clairton residents will be working with their own government and emergency responders to tear down socioeconomic barriers.
The Conscience Group Corp. will be in Clairton for the duration of 2014, measuring its success on community involvement.
“If we are successful, we will have children interested and adults involved,” Adams said. If Clairton community members are interested in shaping the city's ability to react to and recover from potential disaster, everyone from political leaders to business owners to teachers will want to know what role they can play in spreading awareness and developing a plan.
That course of action, city Councilman John Lattanzi said, is separate from the emergency management plans developed by Allegheny County and its municipalities in recent years. While those plans are specific to the roles emergency responders and government officials will play in the event of a disaster, he said, residents need to know how to help themselves until relief is on the way.
“In a major emergency, we don't have the manpower to help everybody right away,” said John Lattanzi, the city's fire chief and emergency management coordinator.
Clairton Mayor Rich Lattanzi welcomed the opportunity to increase awareness and preparedness.
“There are resources we don't have in this town, and we have people who are willing to come here to help us,” the mayor said. “We are providing them with an office, and they are going to link valuable services to our community. They are going to teach us what we can do to be ready for anything.”
Whether that means teaching CPR to a few dozen residents or instructing familes to keep a kit of flashlights and nonperishable food in their homes, Rich Lattanzi said any steps are worthwhile.
“This is another way of looking at civic responsibility,” Adams said. “We include our children, our senior citizens. Everyone plays a role in a whole community becoming more resilient. It's a cultural change, and it impacts our safety.”
More information about the Conscience Group Corp.'s DREMA efforts in Clairton is available by calling 412-945-3487 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. An open house is planned for March 7 from 5-7 p.m. at Clairton City Hall, 551 Ravensburg Blvd.
Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1956, or email@example.com.