(Used by permission of the Journal Tribune)
Saco -- Later this month Saco will see how well it is prepared for a natural or technical disaster when a mock ice storm blows into the city, rendering it helpless.
Initiated by a partnership between the Federal Emergency Management Agency and EverGreen Data Continuity Inc., a Newbury, Mass. based service that provides end-to-end data continuity solutions to businesses, Saco will take part in a pilot program aimed at preparing municipalities for disasters before they happen. Saco was selected from among 26 municipalities in the New England, New York, and New Jersey area and will be the first in the nation to take part in the disaster resistance program. The city will serve as a model for other communities throughout the United States.
"We are setting the stage," said Finance Director Lisa Parker, who helped write the grant with Public Works Director Larry Nadeau for the program. "Ultimately it'll help improve everybody's disaster reaction."
The pilot program, which is part of FEMA's Project Impact initiative to mitigate the impact of disasters, is expected to be tested in Saco on Sept. 26. Representatives from FEMA and EverGreen will hold a day-long workshop at City Hall that will begin with a disaster recovery course and end with a simulated ice storm exercise for the city and area businesses.
"There will be all types of (mock) catastrophes that will happen," said Parker. "We'll all be troubleshooting. It'll pull the community together to work our way out of problems that may arise."
She said a meeting will be held on Sept.15 with local media to discuss including them in the simulation.
"That way it'll make it more realistic," she said.
Robert Burns, president of EverGreen, said his company is usually hired by businesses to help them prepare for disasters. While at a disaster conference he met with the deputy director of FEMA, he said, and they developed the idea to apply to program to municipalities.
"If people plan for the disaster beforehand, it minimizes the cost of the disaster," he said. "(The program) would assess and make sure towns and cities can recover from disasters under their time objectives."
EverGreen visited Saco on Aug. 23 to "scope out" the city, according to Burns, and interview department heads, schools and area businesses. He said they met with the public works department, the Emergency Management Agency and the police and fire departments as well.
The company is now writing up an assessment, based on their interviews, to see how well Saco is prepared for a disaster and what, if anything, is needed, Burns said. The results are not complete, but he said they are impressed with how the city compares to businesses EverGreen has evaluated in the past.
"I'm amazed with how the whole city government pulls together," he said. "They do a much better job than some of the businesses we offer our services to."
Burns said after the workshop and exercise, the results of the pilot program will be highlighted at FEMA's national summit in Washington, D.C. in November. If FEMA sponsors the program nationwide, it would be available to other municipalities by applying for a federal grant.
"Saco is really serving as the model environment for the program," said Burns. "(If the program is picked up it) could help build disaster resistant communities across the country."