Dalton Works to Update Hazard Mitigation Plan
DALTON, Mass. — The town is in the process of updating its hazard mitigation plan.
The current plan that is in place expires in June. In preparation for this, the town applied and received a grant through the state Emergency Management Agency, part of which covers the cost of a consultant, Emergency Management Director Glenn Lagerwall said.
The hazard mitigation planning committee has been meeting to gather information for Jamie Caplan Consulting for the last couple months. Part of the consultant's requirements is that there be a public forum meeting.
When approaching updating the hazard mitigation plan they try not to look too far ahead because they are required to update it every five years, However, they still take into consideration the effects of climate change, Caplan said.
One of the biggest incentives to having a Federal Emergency Management Agency approved hazard mitigation plan is that it saves lives and money, she said.
"The plan will enable you to receive or be eligible to receive pre-disaster mitigation funding from FEMA, through the state. You are not eligible to receive those funds without a FEMA approved hazard mitigation plan," Caplan said.
"So, that's certainly the biggest incentive most communities have. Your plan will identify cost-effective actions for you to reduce risk."
Dalton's plan will focus on the town's greatest vulnerabilities and weigh the costs of all the different projects that they come up with together, she said.
"We're not looking for harebrained ideas, if you will, we're really looking for some realistic projects that you could get some grant funding for and implement and have them make a real difference," Caplan said.
In addition to looking within the community, Caplan encouraged building partnerships with the surrounding areas like Pittsfield and Hinsdale because the natural hazards that effect the town will cross those borders.
During the forum, which took place during last week's Select Board meeting, attendees participated in the presentation to identify the positive characteristics of the town, possible natural hazards, and critical facilities the town relies on.
Residents present at the meeting also proposed ways the town can mitigate risks or lessen the impact.
The plan consists of a profile of the community, hazard information and risk assessment, the community's capabilities, a mitigation strategy, and a plan implementation and maintenance.
Dalton has a great sense of community, Select Board Vice Chair Dan Esko said. Select Board member John Boyle also mentioned how the Appalachian Trail runs through the town.
In the past town officials said Dalton has a lot to offer including the area's quality of living, natural beauty, current and future local businesses, and a "top-notch education."
Residents present at the meeting listed hazards including the extreme cold, heat, winter storms, flooding, drought, and wildfires.
One of the major concerns brought up during the meeting was incidents involving trains carrying toxic chemicals. These concerns were influenced by recent incidents including last February's derailment in the Midwest.
The derailment that occurred in Ohio could easily happen in Dalton because multiple trains that go through town carry the same type of chemicals, fuel and oil, Select Board member John Boyle said.
People who grew up in the Berkshires are used to natural hazards like the snow. The town should focus and develop a plan for emergencies such as train derailments, he said.
Resident Cheryl Rose said Dalton needs to find better ways to communicate and share information on ways for residents to protect themselves and their homes in an emergency. Communication means such as phone calls and text messages are not sufficient.
There are people who may not know they live in a flood zone because the flood maps are outdated, she added.
Caplan said these were great ideas. He added that there are residents who may not know where to evacuate or that the Senior Center is used as a warming and cooling center and is the town's Emergency Operation Center.
Rose also noted that the town only has one road to the hospital in Pittsfield and was unsure if there are emergency evacuation procedures. She recommended that officials look into other ways surrounding areas communicate with their residents.
One of the major challenges surrounding sharing information using means other than social media, the town website, phones, and texting is that the process needs to be navigated and there is an added cost, Lagerwall said in a followup conversation.
Mailing information out to residents is an added cost of approximately $7,000 not including the cost of paying personnel.
Utilizing the CodeRed process would require updating the program, which is an added cost and would need to go through other steps such as contract issues and bidding, he said.
The Emergency Management Department has been collaborating with one of the Fire Department's paramedics, Morgan McDonough, to establish a civilian service and response team. There are similar teams in the area.
The team would train interesting volunteers, using the MEMA civilian service response training, in processes to help supplement emergency personnel in case of emergency.
The program is in the initial stages of development, focusing on creating policies and procedures before seeking volunteers.
A lot of the concerns mentioned during the meeting are in the plan's draft, Caplan said. However, there will be more public meetings in the future that will focus a lot more on what the mitigation actions will be going into the plan, so residents can add to the plan.
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