Attendance light at Clairton emergency planning session
A Friday evening open house at Clairton City Hall put responsibility on public officials as the Conscience Group Corp. pushed to get residents involved in local emergency planning.
The gathering was intended to open lines of communication between Clairton residents, grassroots researchers and community activists who are building what they hope will be a national model for disaster resilience. However, meager attendance brought the Conscience Group's presentation on Disaster Resiliency Emergency Management Awareness (DREMA) concepts to those who already have heard it.
“There's no politics here,” said David Adams, president of the Conscience Group. “The issue is saving lives. This is about getting information out and getting people to act.”
With a one-year agreement to operate a DREMA outreach at city hall, the Conscience Group is conducting research in partnership with residents and government.
With the DREMA concept based on federally identified gaps that heighten vulnerability to natural or man-made disasters, researchers are identifying social barriers such as economic disadvantages and chronic criminal activity that can impact the ability of governments and residents to prepare for, recover from and adapt to adverse conditions brought on by emergencies.
By addressing public officials candidly, Adams said the Conscience Group overcame its first barrier by educating local officials about what DREMA is.
“We're hoping our government officials can go back and say, ‘I think they've got something here,'” Adams said. “We need help. It's critical as we go ward by ward that you are fully informed on what we are doing.”
Representatives, including Adams, approached city officials and local pastors in 2013 to get a feel for Clairton's needs in terms of disaster preparedness. At that time he said Mon Valley communities can work toward being resilient in the event of a disaster by identifying their own needs and forming extensions that jell with existing emergency plans. That means teaching residents to be self-sufficient in their everyday lives as well as in a disaster.
Adams portrayed Clairton as 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.
Last year Adams was met by confused and angry residents who shared their concerns during the Conscience Group's presentations. They did not want to connect socioeconomic issues with emergency management concepts.
“There were times when we had plenty of questions,” Mayor Rich Lattanzi confirmed. “It took awhile for me to understand this, but we need someone to get into our neighborhoods and identify some of the problems in small towns and define what a disaster really is.”
With post 9/11 laws requiring emergency management plans to be in place in all states, counties and municipalities across the nation, Adams said it should be natural for residents to play a role in their own preparedness. With the laws applying to governments for homeland security purposes, he said, there needs to be a citizen-based component — that being DREMA.
“The information is out there. The agencies are doing their jobs,” Adams said. “The problem is that Americans aren't listening.”
While the nation is “doing a fine job” at recovering from disasters, Adams said, there is much to be done in terms of working together, working with the government, volunteering and loving our neighbors.
Marie Blair, the Conscience Group vice president, said residents in communities such as Clairton need to be prepared for natural, man-made and technological disasters. That includes scenarios such as the recent landslide in Washington, water contamination issues in West Virginia, or the local financial information breach brought on by a national retailer.
Individual households and whole communities can prepare together, Blair said.
“In order for communities to be prepared, we have to be more focused on where we are right now,” she said. “We need to focus on organizations that will go into a community, identify barriers within that community and help them overcome those barriers to be more prepared.”
The Conscience Group shared plans to gather data while working with youth and individuals who want to overcome criminal records, based on surveys that identify socioeconomic barriers.
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.
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.