A number of municipal elected officials gathered Tuesday evening to learn about what they should do to plan for emergencies in their municipality.
During the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency's annual elected official seminar, held at the Carbon County Emergency Management Agency in Nesquehoning, Mark Nalesnik, Carbon County EMA coordinator; and Patrick J. Flynn, emergency management specialist for PEMA, educated the people on rules and regulations, hazard mitigation, and procedures that need to be done during and to help prevent emergency situations.
"The goal of this seminar was to bring the municipal level of government up-to-date on what their responsibilities are," Nalesnik said, noting that elected officials' responsibilities fall not only during times of disaster but also on a day-to-day basis. "Tonight taught them what they need to be aware of and what they need to do as far as having an emergency operations center designated, emergency shelters designated, having an emergency operations plan (EOP) at the municipal level current and up-to-date and ready as a usable document."
He also explained that in addition the elected officials learned about how to help each other during emergencies and ways to reach out to other levels of government, such as PEMA or the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"I would like to thank all the municipalities that sent people to this session because it shows integrity and concern for their municipality," Nalesnik said.
Municipalities represented at the seminar included Penn Forest Township, Jim Thorpe, Lehighton, East Side Boro, Lehigh Township, Summit Hill, Lansford, Nesquehoning, Kidder Township, Franklin Township, and Weissport.
Flynn talked about a number of areas in an emergency management system, including what is required of the municipality and why; federal and state laws that must be followed; the different layers of emergency management; the importance of an active Emergency Operations Center and updated Emergency Operations Plan; and disaster recovery after an emergency strikes.
He stressed the importance of having a unified community that knows the procedures of what to do in a disaster; and noted that every municipality should also identify critical infrastructure, such as water treatment plants and borough offices.
Nalesnik added that in addition to identifying the critical infrastructure, before pictures of these places should be taken and kept up-to-date so that if a disaster occurs, such as flooding, municipalities would have pictures to show what the infrastructure looked like before the disaster happened; as well as photos of after the disaster happened.
Flynn noted that doing this would help when documenting damage because state and federal officials don't know what the towns looked like before the disaster. It also helps when determining if a state and federal disaster declaration is needed to allow for special funding opportunities.
In addition, getting all disaster information into the state quickly is important. He also said that pre-declaring a weather emergency is a very proactive practice to begin to get the ball rolling if help is needed.
"You should develop working relationships and mutual aid agreements with your neighbors because they are the first people who will be there to help," Flynn told officials. "Declare when necessary and make sure to keep a good record of receipts, when people work, and equipment rentals so when the state comes in, you have proof of money spent during the disaster. The more prepared you are, the better the outcome will be."
Flynn also discussed the importance of having an updated EOP because the "most important thing to any disaster to bring order back to a chaotic situation."
He added that planning will only cover about 75 percent in the event of a disaster because there will always be something unexpected that occurs.
"You need to have a good understanding of emergency management operations," Flynn told officials at the end of the presentation, as he spoke about classes that are available to help people become more knowledgeable on how to handle emergency situations.
For an updated list on available classes that the Carbon County EMA will be hosting, call the EMA at (570) 325-3097.