From chainsaws to nurses: Pinpointing who can help in emergencies

WASHINGTON — First responders can’t be everywhere at once during major events such as Hurricane Florence. So, a local guide that’s being put together aims to prepare residents on how to help each other during emergencies.

In the final stages of preparation, the Fairfax County Community Emergency Response Guide will be available online and places people frequent such as libraries to offer detailed advice and checklists for what to do before, during and after natural, man-made and everyday hazards.

Does a nurse live on your block? Identifying resources and people with special skills within your community is one recommended way to prepare.

“You may have a person who’s a landscaper who has a chainsaw and knows how to use it,” Seamus Mooney, Office of Emergency Management coordinator, told Fairfax County Public Safety Committee supervisors on Tuesday. 

For individual purposes, communities might be defined as the floor of an apartment building, a neighborhood block, a church or business.

“This (guide) allows them to define their own community, develop a communication plan and a response plan for that community,” Mooney said.

The guide delves into a number of specific situations with advice that can be used independently or as part of a full plan. For example, one section targets cybersecurity situations.

“If someone was interested in just cyber, they could grab that one piece and maybe grab the business continuity appendices and use that for their business. Or, they may say, ‘Hey, I like this whole section and pull the whole section down,'” Mooney said.

The guide has been in development for about a year. The county has consulted with the city of Los Angeles and gained resources from its Five Step Community Preparedness Guide.

“They spent a lot of time (developing it) and have been using it for a couple years very successfully, so we’ve been able to partner with them and learn how they’ve used it to implement that with us as well,” Mooney said.

He added that the only other municipal plan in the country that rivals what will be Fairfax County’s comprehensive guide was just released by Houston, Texas, in response to Hurricane Harvey.

After a big emergency, it might take three days for anyone other than neighbors to be able to offer help to those who need it.

Mooney wants people to be “72 hours prepared,” but admits it’s a big challenge convincing people emergencies can and do happen. “Make a plan, have a kit, stay informed and if you have the ability, get involved,” Mooney said.

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Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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