TAKOMA PARK—The Takoma Park Emergency Preparedness Committee met to discuss such issues as severe weather and emergency signals for the area to improve awareness among its citizens.
The committee is composed of 12 members, some from the community and others from local emergency response organizations, such as the Washington Adventist Hospital and the Takoma Park Volunteer Fire Department. Five members attended their May 23 meeting.
Ron Hardy, who serves as the committee’s co-chair, announced that Montgomery County is conducting a study to learn more about how climate change will affect the area.
Volunteer Fire Department of Takoma Park’s Thomas Horne said the area is prone to extreme weather like severe thunderstorms, tornadoes and bad winter weather. But disasters like earthquakes are very rare.
“You don’t want to be caught in a severe thunderstorm here,” Horne said. “The stuff flying through the air could kill you if you’re not sheltered.”
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Montgomery County and the southern regions of Maryland have been susceptible in recent years to flooding, thunderstorms and windstorms.
As the effects of climate change become more pronounced, it is likely that these storms will happen more frequently. If so, infrastructure damage along with health risks, according to the State of Maryland.
In response to damaging storms and other natural disasters, the committee discussed shelters around the area that could be used in the event of an emergency.
Hardy said that there are plenty of shelter sites around Montgomery County, but not all of them are prepared with staff or sufficient equipment. He noted that if a natural disaster were to hit Takoma Park, the closest shelter would be in Long Branch.
“(Sites) are not considered actual shelters unless they are properly staffed,” said Hardy.
But Horne said that there are plenty of pre-approved sites and suitable shelters in the area, which need only to be better equipped. High schools are often chosen to serve as shelters, according to the committee, because they often have showers and usually can handle a large capacity.
However, Horne noted that it is important to pack shower shoes in home emergency response kits to prevent the growth of germ and fungi.
Hardy also noted that an additional challenge for shelters in an emergency is the functionality of the showers. He explained that since students are often not required to shower after gym classes, the showers may not have been used in a long time. Water could be cold and standing in the pipes.
Another issue with shelters, as pointed out by committee member Mary Jane Michui, is accessibility and comfort for people with disabilities or behavioral issues.
Horne said that living in a shelter for any amount of time after a disaster is especially difficult for people with accessibility challenges and children as well.
The Maryland Department of Disabilities and other local governmental organizations put together a booklet with information about preparing for emergencies with considerations for disabled people. According to their booklet, entitled “Planning for People with Disabilities and Others with Access and Functional Needs Toolkit,” there are resources for people who decide to shelter-in-place. These government agencies encourage people to research agencies and organizations that could be consulted for services in a shelter-in-place situation.
Another way communities can prepare better for emergencies is by having systems in place to disseminate information to the public.
People with access to cellphones often receive Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs) through infrastructure provided by the federal government, called the Integrated Public Alert Warning System (IPAWS). Alerts also can go out via radio and TV interruptions.
Hardy said that Takoma Park has its alert system called Takoma Park Alerts for residents, but only about 10 to 15 percent of the town’s population are subscribed.
The Takoma Park system is equipped to send out SMS text messages, phone calls and emails.
Michui pointed out that elderly individuals often don’t have access to email accounts or cell phones. In the event of an emergency, they could be out of luck if they don’t receive any other national or state alerts.
“The best thing to do in that case is neighbors helping neighbors,” Hardy said.
The committee agreed that in the coming months, they should work on outreach efforts in the community to get more residents signed up for Takoma Park Alerts.
The Takoma Park Emergency Preparedness Committee meets monthly. Their next scheduled meeting is on June 27.