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Disaster preparedness program sees increased interest

September marked the ninth annual National Preparedness Month, a concentrated awareness and disaster preparation campaign sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission (CSPDC)  used the month to showcase the Valley’s regional disaster preparedness and mitigation program, Shenandoah Valley Project Impact (SVPI).

Since its inception in September 2000, SVPI has conducted hundreds of trainings, demonstrations, surveys, forums and planning meetings, as well as developed important plans and printed materials to educate Valley residents on ways to protect their families, homes and properties, and businesses from the impact of severe weather, emergencies, and disasters. The SVPI was also recently selected to be a pilot community for the Resilient Neighbors Network, a national program that will forge stronger efforts within local communities to prepare and respond to emergencies.

Recent Shenandoah Valley Project Impact activities have included its annual Disaster Resistant Forum and a free ten-week Community Emergency Response Training (CERT) course.  The forum was well attended by representatives from local governments, human service organizations, businesses, and concerned citizens. Topics covered included a lively discussion about the impact of the June derecho and lessons-learned, a report on the progress of Pet and Animal Preparedness and Planning by local governments, and an update of current activities of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. SVPI has been instrumental in providing CERT training since September 2003 and to date has trained 442 people. Currently CSPDC staff, coordinate the Staunton-Augusta-Waynesboro CERT program.  The purpose of CERT is to train ordinary citizens in a variety of topics including disaster preparedness, fire safety, emergency medical operations, and terrorism awareness so that in the event of a large scale emergency or disaster when first responders are overwhelmed, these citizens will have the skills to assist their families, neighbors, and community.

SVPI also conducted a survey of the citizens in the Central Shenandoah Region to gather information about residents’ experiences during the derecho. Survey respondents were asked to describe what strategies worked for them during the storm, areas they felt were most vulnerable to the storm’s impact, and what supplies or items they found useful or wished they had. A report that includes the results of the survey, a summary of the derecho brainstorming session held at the CSPDC’s Disaster Resistant Forum, as well as tips and resources to prepare for future storms will be released at the end of October.

“Reflecting on the past several years where we have faced  back-to-back severe winter storms, tornadoes, earthquakes, and most recently were significantly impacted by the derecho storm in June, it is more important than ever that Shenandoah Valley residents educate and prepare themselves for severe weather and other emergencies,” said Rebecca Joyce, Shenandoah Valley Project Impact Coordinator. “People need to realize that when these types of events hit the Valley, it will be up to us as individuals to ‘weather the storm’ and be able to provide for our basic needs on our own.  We all should be prepared for the chaos and lack of services that significant severe weather or disasters cause.  We should anticipate that there could be at least several days that we are cut off from the outside world and must rely on our own resources.”

The Resilient Neighbors Network (RNN) pilot program nomination by the National Hazard Mitigation Association and the Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration boosts SVPI’s continuing efforts to provide the Shenandoah Valley with cutting-edge disaster preparedness planning. As one of only ten communities in the United States selected to participate, SVPI will be advancing the grassroots peer-to-peer community program by assisting localities in working together to build and strengthen hazard mitigation.

Augusta Health Augusta Free Press Kris McMackin CPA
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