Brett Yates, Contributor
Charlotte Emergency Management wants to turn a section of the town hall into a ready-to-go disaster response headquarters. That’ll require supplies, a plan, and most importantly, a team of prepared volunteers.
The technical term used on Sept. 19, when the Charlotte Selectboard hosted emergency management director Christopher Davis and emergency management coordinator Karina Warshaw for a public meeting, was “emergency operations center,” which refers both to a physical location and to an organizational structure for staging municipal activities in the event of a hurricane or an ice storm.
In order to receive state and federal grants, each Vermont town must annually produce a local emergency management plan. Charlotte’s lists phone numbers for nearby companies and nonprofits that might be able to help out in a pinch. But activating an emergency operations center — which exists in the most recent local emergency management plan only as a theoretical entity — would require significantly more groundwork.
If an extreme weather event hit Charlotte, the emergency operations center would immediately play second fiddle — or third or fourth — to Charlotte Volunteer Fire and Rescue Services, Vermont Emergency Management, and FEMA.
“We’re not telling them what to do,” Davis clarified. “We’re asking them what we can do to help people.”
In the aftermath, however, the emergency operations center would organize the town’s first recovery efforts, potentially with power still down and roads still blocked.
“The emergency operations center brings the calm,” said Vermont Emergency Management regional program coordinator Max Kennedy, who sat in on the meeting digitally. “Ultimately, they’re alleviating stress by leaning forward and being proactive by supporting whatever is going on outside those walls.”
The emergency operations center manager — likely Davis or Warshaw — would lead a team of five other officers, specializing in public information, administration, situational awareness, logistics support and finance, respectively.
“The positions can be one person or two people or more. We also want to cross-train everyone,” Warshaw explained.
Davis and Kennedy placed particular significance upon public information and administration. The public information officer would write press releases and VT-ALERT messages and put up signs around town.
“We have to ensure that the information we have is as accurate as it can be,” Davis said. “We need people in our group checking on social media and other channels, maybe even watching the news and listening to the radio, to hear what might be out there so we can hopefully get ahead of it.”
The emergency operations center administrator would document activities, take notes at meetings and track volunteer hours. Kennedy emphasized the importance of good record-keeping when seeking FEMA reimbursements.
“All the photos, the sign-in sheets — it pays for itself in multitudes down the road,” he said.
According to Davis, some Charlotters have already expressed interest in these positions, though more will be needed. Kennedy promised to share online training resources in advance of an in-person “facilitated dialogue,” where volunteers will discuss and begin to practice their potential roles during an imaginary disaster, tentatively scheduled for Nov. 14.