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Monson

Hiring of full-time disaster manager in Monson draws mixed reviews

Posted by Anna Meiler May 4, 2012 08:50 PM

The decision to hire a full-time disaster recover manager in Monson a month before the year anniversary of last June's tornado is receiving mixed reviews from residents.

The position is funded as part of the $520,000 released by the state to assist the nine towns that were devastated by a category EF-3 tornado nearly a year ago.

“I think it’s a waste of money,” said Gail Morrissey, a Street Angel volunteer. “I can’t see what benefit this position would bring that the other positions can't do;
$65,000 could go so far towards something else.”

After state officials observed the recovery efforts in Monson, they asked the town administrator, Gretchen Neggers, if additional personnel would help. She didn’t hesitate in saying, “yes.”

"When you look at the fact that Gretchen Neggers has been pretty much managing the recovery process by herself, it became pretty obvious that assistance was necessary," said Alana Murphy, the Director of Policy Development for the Department of Housing and Community Development.

"The Patrick administration has tried to be responsive of the need of the individual communities as they tried to recover from the disaster and this is something we felt we could do for Monson," she said.

“We’re very appreciative of the help,” said Neggers. “This position would really serve to be a link to make sure everybody knows what’s going on.”

The disaster recovery manager would help determine whether to repair or rebuild the Monson town offices and devise a plan of action for the 150 acres of land that still looks the way it did the day after the tornado. The manager would also work with non-profit organizations to determine the resources they have to offer the town and individual residents.

Additionally, they would help keep tabs on the multiple volunteer groups that have formed in town and assist them in locating additional resources.

“There are so many volunteer groups. There needs to be a link,” Neggers said.

Out of the $520,000 in state funds, $425,000 is being allocated for housing rehabilitation. Neggers said the disaster recovery manager will be crucial in informing residents if they are eligible for those funds and in helping them access the monies.

“We don’t want our residents who still have needs to miss those opportunities because they don’t know what’s going on,” she said.

Street Angels founder, Karen King, said the state funds are distributed among the affected communities on a first come, first serve basis.

"If we don’t have someone who knows what they're doing to get applications in on time, Monson will miss out and not get their fair share," she said. "This will definitely help move things along and help us get a piece of the pie that we otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to get."

Neggers compared Monson’s recovery to that of Springfield, noting the $1.6 million provided by Mass Mutual for tornado recovery, including the hiring of personnel.

“We don’t have any of those resources,” she said. “The work is falling on to people who already have full-time jobs, so it doesn’t get done properly and then the community suffers.”

However, many residents feel that the money could be used for more necessary recovery efforts. One resident posted on the Facebook group, Monson Tornado Watch 2011, that the money would be better spent on a tornado siren.

“We still have people that haven’t taken down their old houses or cleared their lots because they were uninsured or under-insured,” said Morrissey, who believes the money should go towards helping these individuals.

However, Neggers said the $65,000 was specifically appropriated to hire a disaster recovery manager and cannot be used for anything else. She believes that this position will bring the town more funds in the future.

The position will only be filled for one year and the $65,000 will go towards salary benefits and expenses. The hiring process will begin as soon as the town receives the paperwork allowing them to do so.


Anna Meiler can be reached at ameiler16@gmail.com and you can follow her on Twitter @anna_meiler.

Additional $520,000 to fund Monson recovery manager, tornado repairs

Posted by Rachel Roberts May 2, 2012 10:20 AM

Eleven months after last June’s tornadoes tore through Western Massachusetts, the Patrick-Murray Administration announced an additional $520,000 in recovery assistance to fund a recovery manager in Monson and homeowner repairs throughout affected communities. Springfield Partners for Community Action will also receive $30,000 to provide additional funding for their Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.

Monson’s disaster recovery manager will receive $65,000 to identify local needs and opportunities while coordinating state, federal and non-profit assistance opportunities. Additionally, $425,000 will be administered by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) to individual homeowners struggling to pay for repairs due to being under-insured, lack of insurance, or lack of FEMA or other monetary assistance.

Rebuilding homes as is, with updated building codes and including other outdoor structures, such as garages, are sometimes not covered by insurance companies, according to James Mazik, deputy director of operations at PVPC. Mazik says the program will implement a limit of $7,500 per unit, with an additional process of obtaining up to $15,000 per unit.

“[The program] is geared to owner-occupied residents, based a little on medium income, but there’s other guidelines to ensure equal distribution across affected communities,” Mazik said.

Mazik emphasizes the importance of fairly distributing funds to the 19 affected communities, inlcluding Westfield, West Springfield, Springfield, Wilbraham, Monson, Sturbridge and Palmer. He believes the PVPC will modify rules to one of their existing programs that adapts to regulations and restrictions set by the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).

“It’s great to get the money but there isn’t a lot,” Mazik said.

“If you do the math you’re talking 40-50 units over nine communities, that could be 5 property owners per [affected] community. It’s not a lot but it’s better than nothing.”

The PVPC believes the program can begin implementation within 30 days of receiving a contract with the full terms and conditions from the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development.

Mary-Leah Assad, the Communications Specialist at DHCD, says the contract will be emailed to the PVPC on Wednesday. The town of Monson will also begin the process of hiring a disaster recovery manager.

“The Monson position came up organically through our conversations with the town manager and residents,” Assad said.

“There won’t be a similar position in Springfield because they have Develop Springfield leading recovery efforts and they are responsible for the same duties that the disaster recovery manager will have.”

Springfield’s final Master Plan was released on April 26, a month shy of the anniversary of the tornadoes. DevelopSpringfield, a non-profit organization leading the Rebuild Springfield initiative, will begin taking the steps outlined in their plan, according to Nick Fyntrilakis, chairman of the group’s board of directors.

“Implementation is the next critical step in the process,” Fyntrilakis said in a recent press release. “DevelopSpringfield will quarterback the Master Plan in partnership with the Springfield Redevelopment Authority, the City and key stakeholders and the community at large.”

The plan could take three to five years and will likely require hundreds of millions of dollars in funding, according to Gerald W. Hayes, co-chairman of the Rebuild Springfield effort.

The plan is dependent on federal disaster aid, state assistance and private contributions. So far, Springfield has received only $5.3 million from the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA), less than ten percent of the $57 million they are expected to pay as part of the disaster declaration’s 75 percent reimbursement. Springfield currently has 39 active FEMA applications, with active project worksheets totaling $22.9 million.

Rachel Roberts can be reached at rachelroberts90@gmail.com or on Twitter @relroberts

Monson mother of three refuses to let tornado alter her life plans

Posted by Anna Meiler April 24, 2012 12:10 PM

house1.jpgMonson's Kelly Couture was determined not to let Mother Nature mess with her plans for nursing school.

“I didn’t want to give up because of the tornado. I didn’t want to quit,” said Couture, a Monson resident and mother of three.

Couture began taking nursing courses at Holyoke Community College last fall, about three months after the tornado ripped the roof off her home, allowing rain to flood inside and cause about $180,000 worth of damage. Now, with an anonymous donation of $30,000 to Holyoke Community College for tornado victims, Couture is one of many students hoping to get support.

“There’s not a lot out there for tornado victims,” said Couture. “I think it’s wonderful they are doing this."

Out of the 7,000 students enrolled in Holyoke Community College, about one-third were affected by the tornado in a significant way, according to Erica Broman, vice president of Institutional Development.

The donation will be distributed in amounts ranging from $500 to $3,000 per student, depending on the financial need expressed in applicants' 250 word essays describing how the tornado impacted them.

“We’re not looking at grades or anything. We want to know how significant an impact the tornado had on their life,” said Broman. “If their house was destroyed we would be looking to provide a great deal of help for them.”

Couture’s situation reflects those of many tornado victims. She received $30,000 less than her total damage costs from her insurance company and many of the repairs, such as getting the house up to code, replacing the staircase, the lawn and trees, will be paid out of her own pocket. A scholarship award would eliminate her need to take out a loan and would offset the hardship of her recovery expenses.

The donation came from the Tides Foundation in California, inspired by the story of Angelica Guerrero, who gave her life to protect her daughter from the June 1 tornado. Holyoke Community College set up a scholarship fund to support both of Angelica’s daughters. Now, the college has the opportunity to extend financial assistance to even more students affected by the tornado.

Scholarship applications must be submitted by April 27 and the recipients will be awarded on June 1, the anniversary of the tornado.

“It feels wonderful to be able to do it and we’re so grateful to the donor for making it possible,” said Broman.

For more information on the scholarship and to download an application, click here.

Photo provided by Kelly Couture.

Anna Meiler can be reached at ameiler16@gmail.com.

Follow her on Twitter: @anna_meiler

Brush fires becoming huge concern for Brimfield, Monson

Posted by Amy Chaunt April 6, 2012 02:57 PM

By Amy Chaunt and T.J. Houpes

IMG_2491.JPGA brush fire broke out Wednesday in Brimfield, damaging 52 acres of land in the Paige Hill Road area as a result of the recent dry weather and leftover debris from last June's tornado.

Brimfield Fire Chief Fred Piechota said fire started small Wednesday afternoon -- behind a residence on Paige Hill Road. He said it then rapidly spread toward the Holland Road area behind the 1 Stop Towing company located in town as winds increased during the course of the day.

"Initially it was our department and two other departments, but when it spread the incident commander called for a task force," he said. "We had roughly 60 personnel working and 25-30 departments that responded."

In addition to Brimfield fire
and police units, units fromIMG_2480.JPG
the Massachusetts Forest Fire
Control, Massachusetts Department of Fire Services Special Operations, Palmer Fire Department, and Ware Fire Department also helped in controlling the flames. As of noon on Thursday, the fire was out and crews were leaving the operations center which had been set up at the intersection of Paige Hill and Haynes Hill roads.

Early last week, a minor brush fire broke out in Monson on T Peck Road, luckily resulting in little damage to the surrounding area.

“The fire was a result of a homeowner who had been burning during the weekend and didn’t put it out properly,” said George L. Robichaud, the Fire Chief/Forest Fire Warden for the town of Monson. “Dry conditions and wind in the days preceding the fire, and inappropriate extinguishment, ultimately had caused the fire.”

According to Robichaud, warnings are posted by the Monson Fire Department and are based off of 1-5 scale of fire danger days, with one being the lowest and five being the highest. A red flag day signals conditions that are extremely dangerous for burning and more likely to cause fire damage.

“We are kind of in a position where we are dependent on rainfall and it needs to be measurable,” said Robichaud. “The ground is usually wet at this time and in the past, there was a heavy dew and now there is no breeze during the day and anytime you have air movement, it dries things out.”

Fire Chief Piechota echoed these same sentiments in regard to residents in Brimfield.

"The only thing we can do, and did, was prohibit any outside burning," he said. "Brush permits are suspended until further notice until it rains at least a little."

Normally, burning season takes place from Jan. 15 to May 1, but with the red flag conditions still in place for the foreseeable future, it is highly unlikely any burning will take place in either town. The Department of Environmental Protection is responsible for giving out burning permits to residents, and this determination is based on a day-to-day basis, given the weather.

Scott Harris, a former Monson firefighter and current resident, is equally concerned about the hazardous fire conditions created by the weather and the leftover debris. His biggest concern for Monson and the surrounding communities is that some people will be irresponsible and not use common sense when burning debris.

“If you can’t afford a chipper, this is what you do,” said Harris. “But if you have acres and acres of land, that’s tough and burning is an inexpensive way to do it."

Residents with debris still in their yards from the tornado are the ones in highest jeopardy of causing a brush fire.

“The highest fire danger we have is right in the tornado path,” Robichaud said. "These areas have lost foliage coverage with the trees being gone, so with the trees being gone no longer have shade so everything is out and exposed."

With equally dry conditions anticipated this summer, Robichaud highly advised against the decision to burn.

“As for burning this summer, they’re (residents) not."

Photos by T.J. Houpes

Red Cross teams up with Dell to monitor social networks in the wake of disasters

Posted by Joseph Pereira March 26, 2012 02:00 PM

redcrossdigital.jpgThe American Red Cross, in collaboration with Dell, recently unveiled a new Digital Operations Center that will use social media sites to help in disaster recovery.

"This is the first ever social media command center dedicated specifically to humanitarian response,” said Laura Howe, vice president of public affairs for the Red Cross.

The system, donated by Dell, scours social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, allows the Red Cross is able to pinpoint relief efforts in a suitable and relevant way. The system is based on Dell's own Social Media Listening Command Center, which they use to monitor discourse about their brand on the Internet.

The Red Cross' Digital Operations Center was quickly put to use earlier this month immediately after the tornadoes that hit the Midwest. By tracking social media the center was quickly able to pinpoint Henryville, Indiana as a town hit hard by a tornado on March 2.

“We’re not at the point where we’re telling the public you can tweet at the Red Cross and we’ll send a sandwich truck out to feed you,” Wendy Harman, the Red Cross director of social strategy, told Mashable. “But if we see twenty tweets like that, we may.”

The Red Cross claims that the Internet is currently the third most popular source of news during emergencies behind television and radio, with 18 percent of people using Facebook to get their information.

In the aftermath of almost any disaster, social media is used for more than just calling for aid, there are also people looking to assist and volunteer. For this, the Red Cross has also unveiled a new Digital Volunteer program, which would let people reply to inquiries about services available, suggest resources or simply be there for moral support. The Red Cross will train volunteers across the country to properly handle these situations and moderate the data on the software. This will be a big increase from the three paid employees who previously handled all social media throughout the country.

When an EF-4 tornado hit Harrisburg, Illinois on Feb. 29, members of the community took matters into their own hands and quickly started organizing and collaborating on Facebook, much like Monson did last June.

With most lines of communication cut, people took to their smartphones and laptops and created several Facebook pages. One page gave up-to-the minute updates of weather reports, deaths and pictures from members of the community. Another focused on collaborating volunteer efforts and needs. The Red Cross will now closely monitor forums like these in the immediate aftermath of disasters.

According to the Red Cross 80 percent of people expect emergency responders to monitor social media.

Creative Commons Image courtesy of Dell

Joseph Pereira can be reached at jlawrencepereira@gmail.com

Ludlow teen receives Red Cross Hometown Hero award

Posted by Kimberly Kern March 16, 2012 09:00 AM


Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Shane Chase

Rita Laferriere never imagined she would be chasing Shane Chase down the halls one year for homework and the next nominating him for the Red Cross Hometown Hero Award.

"When he [Shane] told me where he was working and what he was doing, it was very emotional in the classroom because I realized he was up here at my son’s house,” said Laferriere, Chase's former teacher.

The eighth grader from Ludlow who armed himself with a 20-inch blade chainsaw and cut down trees with his brother and his father after the June 1 tornadoes received the Hometown Hero award from the American Red Cross on Thursday.

Shane Chase, 14, of Ludlow was one of six honorees out of 60 nominations and was cited for his extraordinary efforts in the cleanup of the tornadoes.

"The young man who receives this award is fourteen years old but old enough to know that he has a very compassionate heart,” said Honorary Co-Chair Sky Becker of 22News

“I just wanted to help the people,” Shane told 22News.

Shane has logged more than 400 hours of community volunteer hours cutting trees, hauling brush, running brush clippers, and moving fallen trees.

Shane’s father, Alan Chase, said of the award “It was neat, something we didn’t expect.".

Thumbnail image for Mckinley, Shane and Alan

Shane, one of the youngest Hometown Heroes, was also nominated by Michael and Geri Laferriere, whose home he has been working on since last June.

“I think this is a small token of appreciation,” said Michael Laferriere. “Writing a letter is the least I can do. Not a lot of kids his age are going out doing stuff like that every weekend, and they don’t get here at 2 or 3 o’clock, they are here early in the morning.”

Shane and Mckinley

Shane’s mother was the first person he told he would be getting the award, which will be placed on a shelf, in the family room for everyone to see.

Shane started working with a chainsaw before the June 1 tornadoes. Alan Chase, allowed him to cut up pieces of pallets at home but when the tornadoes hit, that is when Shane got all of his experience.

Both Shane and his brother Mckinley, 17, who received a certificate at the ceremony as well, each have personal 20-inch blade chainsaws.

Thumbnail image for Chase and Son's Chainsaw TeamChase and Sons Chainsaw Team’ has worked in all the affected areas of the tornado. Mckinley Chase has friends in the fire department of Monson which drew them specifically to that area.

“We just went down to the church and said ‘what can we do?’” said Mckinley Chase.

Shane works every weekend, getting up around 9 each morning and working a full day until he is tired. He plans to work every day in the summer.

“Every day, depending on the temperature,” said Chase. “If it’s 150 degrees, then I’ll stay home.”

“It’s more than just the physical help too,” said Michael Laferriere. “They are good people, they are a good family, they have a good sense of humor and they will get you smiling.” The Laferriere House

Shane is also an active boy scout with Troop 164.

In the future, Shane plans to be a contractor while doing tree work on the side. Mckinley is going to school to be an electrician. Shane hopes one day he and his brother can own a business together.

“He can work for me or something,” said Shane Chase.

Alan Chase has arranged a ‘Hometown Hero Meet and Greet’ open to the public on April 7 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 170 Main Street, Monson, where the public can meet their new Hometown Hero.

"Chase and Sons Chainsaw Team" has been trying to get donations since last November. The price in gas for the commute and to fuel their equipment is becoming too pricey for the family to handle on their own. The team is accepting donations towards a wood chipper which can be mailed to Alan Chase at 174 Poole St, Ludlow, MA.

Photos by Kim Kern

Kim Kern can be reached at klkern16@gmail.com

Residents across Western Mass. looking to 'pay it forward'

Posted by Anna Meiler March 7, 2012 09:00 AM

HARRISBURG.jpg
Jason Dimitropolis, a Wilbraham firefighter and paramedic, worked around-the-clock as a first responder after the June 1 tornadoes hit Western Massachusetts. After experiencing the tragedy himself, he feels a connection to the tornado victims in the Midwest.

“We’re all in this together no matter where we’re from,” he said.

His line of work is one where you act. So on Monday he boarded a plane to Indiana to help with the relief effort in Henryville where a category EF-4 tornado hit on Friday. He brought only a backpack with a few changes of clothes, food and donations such as gift cards, compact lens kits and towels to bring to victims.

Where is he going to sleep? He doesn't know. But, he packed a hammock just in case.

"If you know someone involved, if you're exposed to it long enough, it's going to affect you," he said.

For residents who can't make the trek to the Midwest, they are pulling their resources at home.

“It meant a lot to us after our tornado -- the outpouring of support we got,” said Monson resident, Kimberly Luscombe-Baker. “Now the Monson volunteer team has said ‘OK, here’s a chance to give back.’"

Since last week, Monson residents have been actively pooling their resources to assist those living in Harrisburg, Illinois -- one of the communities hit hardest by the tornadoes. The small town of 9,000 residents, a size similar to Monson, was devastated by a category EF-4 tornado last Wednesday. The tornado damaged approximately 300 homes and reportedly killed six people.

Though Monson fared better on June 1, the recent outbreak of 109 tornadoes across 10 states has brought a flood of traumatic memories back to residents, many of which feel compelled to help the victims in the Midwest.

'They seem to be having the same issues and have the same questions: 'Where do we go for this, how do we know who needs help,'" said Karen King, the founder of Monson's Street Angels. King also set up a Facebook group for Harrisburg residents to mirror the efforts of the Monson Facebook group. The group, Harrisburg Tornado Help has garnered more than 100 "likes" since it was created last Friday.

The Monson Facebook page was filled with discussions on how Monson could help in the recovery and Luscombe-Baker initiated an effort to purchase gift cards at local stores such as Krogers, Home Depot, CVS, Walmart and more so that victims can buy supplies they need to recover. She is also acting as a collection point for care packages to send the Harrisburg Fire Department. Luscombe-Baker said she got the idea from a friend who used to live in "tornado alley," but wasn’t sure how to get started at first.

“I could have said to one friend ‘wouldn’t this be a great idea’ and nothing would’ve happened. But I posted the idea in the Monson Facebook group and presto!” she said.

Monson Tornado Watch 2011 is an active Facebook group with more than 2,000 members that has been instrumental in Monson’s recovery, from organizing volunteer efforts to acting as a pool of resources and information.

Drawing upon her networking experiences after last Spring's tornado, King, a realtor at REMAX Prestige, contacted realtor, Cheryl Winters in Harrisburg to answer some questions residents were having.

King said Winters was grateful for the advice and said, "This is what humanity is about; paying it forward."

Anna Meiler can be reached at ameiler16@gmail.com.
Follow her on Twitter @anna_meiler

Photo Courtesy of: Paula Nelson/AME Photography: pnelson@globe.com

View more pictures of the tornado destruction.

Monson's Emergency Management Director leads the way to improvement

Posted by Kimberly Kern March 6, 2012 04:48 PM

By Kim Kern and Noelle Richard

Evan Brassard, the new Emergency Management Director (EMD) of the town of Monson, has been working nonstop at rebuilding the community since the June 1 tornado destroyed the town.Evan Brassard.jpg

Brassard spends roughly 10 hours a week working to ensure a better response plan for future disasters and coordinating responders to finding the proper resources they need. However, with meetings, trainings and events, the time he spends could lengthen. He receives an annual stipend of $1,500.

“It may not seem like a lot,” said Brassard. “But with a wedding this year, my masters, a new home, and a full time job, it can be tough to find the time.”

Although it is more time than he anticipated, he is glad he took the job.

Brassard was appointed on Aug 23, more than two months after the June 1 tornado and he has spent a good deal of time evaluating how town officials responded.

“Our response personnel could have spent more time doing what they do best, responding to the incident at hand,” said Brassard. “The EMD could have coordinated critical resources while the Incident Commander and supporting personnel focused on response.”

“It’s Monson, nobody thinks of a tornado. It’s not like our typical natural disaster that we see up here."

Recently, Brassard put together the After Action Report/Improvement Plan for Monson. The report analyzes the strengths of the town, areas for improvement, and strategies to go about implementing the plan.

“There are three big sections that pop out,” said Brassard. “One is communication, one is a lack of training, and one is a framework of employees to handle a situation of that magnitude.”

“Evan is great. I am really excited about the plan,” said Karen King, founder of Street Angels. “We have learned from this experience and we are going to be moving on. It’s like, we put it on the table, everybody had their opinion on what it was and now we are making an action plan and Evan is super about that.”

Monson’s response to both Hurrican Irene and the freak Nor’easter last October was more organized. It was evident that the lessons learned during the tornado were put into action and that everyone better understood their roles, said Brassard.

“He is focused and we just want to make sure that we are ready, we are going to hit the ground running next time,” said King.

The Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) meets every two months to strategize on how to implement the After Action Improvement Plan. The committee is made up of town officials and government working to make progress in the preparedness and response.

The LEPC has made strides in revising the emergency plan and response manuals and have also added positions that, had they been filled during the tornado, would have made the response more flawless, said Brassard.

The LEPC has also been collaborating with the town departments who were not involved during the response pre-tornado; who can now be seen as vital to future endeavors said Brassard.

The town of Monson is planning a practice disaster drill, hopefully by the end of summer.

“I like it that we are all moving forward,” said Karen King. “Evan has got all the players in town, transportation people, everybody in there that he needs to and we are diligently working on this plan.”


Photo: Courtesy of Evan Brassard

Kim Kern can be reached at klkern16@gmail.com, or on twitter @kernkimberly.

Noelle Richard can be reached at noellejrich@gmail.com or on twitter @noellejrich.

After-action tornado report criticizes preparedness of Western Mass. communities

Posted by Anna Meiler March 2, 2012 12:23 PM

By Anna Meiler & Nick Russo

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for damagedhome.jpg
Many of the communities affected by the June 1 tornadoes struggled with chaos and miscommunication, according to an After Action Report/Improvement Plan (AAR) compiled by the Western Massachusetts Regional Homeland Security Advisory Council.

The report, released on Jan. 18, outlines the failures and strengths in emergency response for all of Western Massachusetts, including communication issues between government officials, emergency responders, and citizens, lack of training for appointed emergency personnel, and general unpreparedness for a disaster.

“I think that emergency management had been on the back burner because it had been so long since a response of that nature was needed,” said Evan Brassard, Monson's Emergency Management Director.

In addition to organizational problems and miscommunication within the Incident Command System, the report says that many shelters were unprepared for the influx of tornado refugees and had difficulties coordinating with other shelters and rehousing programs. The report also stated that hospitals discharged some patients -- in a practice referred to as "hospital dumping" -- without first evaluating whether or not the shelters were equipped to manage continuing medical issues.

The report also said that, due to standards in emergency response food practices, some shelter occupants who had dietary restrictions were unable to consume food that was distributed and instead relied on donated home-cooked food consumed off the shelter premises.

Another issue raised in the report was that of low-quality cots that many reported were “buckling, tearing, and ripping after just one use."

Springfield Fire Department spokesperson Dennis Leger said Springfield’s police and fire departments were well-equipped and trained to respond to the emergency due to the many and frequent trainings they have every year.

Leger stated that Springfield’s emergency management organizations have been able to attend trainings and drills due to the city’s ability to obtain grants and funding, something that the Monson town government and other small towns have had difficulty with.

Lack of training, however, was cited in the AAR as a common problem throughout the region among appointed and elected officials responsible for emergency management roles. The report found that many officials had not completed required ICS (Incident Command System) training which aims to standardize methods of emergency response among federal, state, and local organizations.

In Monson, town officials were unable to communicate shelter options to residents during both the tornado and the October nor’easter due to fallen power lines. Brassard said the town recently purchased roadside message boards to display emergency messages and resources to residents in future emergency situations.

“We’re such a small town that it’s always going to be hard to respond to something that large. It’s not like we’re a large city that has all these resources,” said Brassard. “Organization will make us stronger.”

The disaster encompassed such a large geographic area and such a large amount of the population, that response beyond the fire and police departments was required but not executed because many emergency personnel were unaware of their position’s responsibilities, said Karen King, founder of the Street Angels volunteer program.

The problem of ‘staff redundancy’ was also an issue during the disaster -- the case in which an emergency personnel is not available and needs to be replaced. Kathleen Norbut, Monson’s Emergency Management Director at the time of the tornado was out of state on vacation in Florida on June 1. Norbut didn’t return to Monson for several days.

Norbut’s contract ended in July 2011 and the town appointed Evan Brassard.

“Not having an emergency manager there at the time to coordinate the activities was detrimental to the response,” said Evan Brassard, who was appointed as the Emergency Management Director in August 2011.

Brassard said that the town has worked hard to make great strides in emergency response preparedness. The emergency Planning Committee meets once every other month, the Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan has been redone, and an effort to determine the emergency personnel that need to complete ICS training is underway. Training includes online exercises and attending meetings.

Chief of Police, Stephen Kozlowski, also cited redundancy as a detrimental issue.

“Who would’ve thought a tornado would move through down town Monson and compromise the police department? But it did,” he said. “So in hindsight now, it’s easy to say, we should have planned for the destruction of our police department and a complete failure of our communications facility.”

Miscommunication was another issue that fueled the disaster on June 1, both interdepartmental as well as between government official and coordinators.
Karen King was recently appointed as the Volunteer Coordinator, a position that Brassard believes will greatly help the town with swift emergency response in the case of a future disaster.

“If you look at the responses to hurricane Irene, or the snowstorm, the systems are much more refined now. Response is more organized,” he said. Hurricane Irene and the October nor’easter were both federally declared disasters.

The AAR also makes note of the many success stories in cities and towns including the swiftness of volunteer response, effectiveness of some state agencies, and the quick response by local fire and police departments. Despite these successes, the report weighs heavy on the side of improvements needed to emergency preparedness and response.

Officials and residents both feel as if they have learned lessons in preparedness and recovery since the tornado. Town officials are working to improve communication, training, and structural issues, while individuals are taking steps such as maintaining a home emergency kit and gaining a basic understanding of emergency procedures.

“It’s awful we have to go through it but we’ll be much more prepared in the future,” said Brassard.

The report was assembled from interviews of 40 individuals across 18 organizations and can be viewed and downloaded here.

Anna Meiler can be reached at ameiler16@gmail.com and you can follow her on Twitter: @anna_meiler

Nick Russo can be reached at nicholas.j.russo@gmail.com and you can follow him on Twitter: @nickjrusso

Photo Credit: Gail Morrissey

NEPR to hold tree-planting fund drive for areas affected by June tornadoes

Posted by T.J. Houpes February 27, 2012 02:58 PM

New England Public Radio (WFCR & WNNZ) will host an on-air fund drive to benefit areas in the Connecticut River Valley affected by the June tornadoes, Tropical Storm Irene, and the October snowstorm.

Root for Your Radio” will be held Feb. 24 – Mar. 3, and will be entirely funded by listener contributions. NEPR has partnered with various non-profit and volunteer organizations throughout the Connecticut River Valley, as well as the city of Springfield, to plant up to 2,600 trees in communities affected by recent weather events reaching from Connecticut to Vermont.

Cathy Ives, executive director of development and major gifts at NEPR, said the trees are to be planted later this spring in areas hardest hit by the three weather events, including western Mass. This is particularly relevant to communities hit by the June tornadoes like Monson and Brimfield, where downed trees still litter roadsides, and Springfield where the United States Department of Agriculture has estimated 13,000 trees were lost or damaged in the June storms alone.

The idea for the drive started within the radio station as a way to support a region devastated by the recent storms, according to Ives. NEPR is working directly with the Connecticut River Watershed Council to coordinate the volunteer-based planting of the trees. NEPR has reached out to tree gardens and nurseries, and non-profits to coordinate environmental efforts like determining what types of tree belong in specific regions.

“In Springfield, larger shade trees will be planted,” Ives said. “Other areas will have seedlings planted based on flooding and erosion. Non-profits will be doing the planting, and volunteers will be needed later on in the process.”

Ives said NEPR’s ultimate goal is to help the local communities affected by the devastating weather events. And with help from all the other organizations involved, NEPR is hoping to give back to its listeners and help restore storm-ravaged western Mass. and the surrounding areas.

She describes NEPR’s work with the following:

“There’s an old proverb that goes ‘When’s the best time to plant a tree?’ and the answer to that is 50 years ago. The second part of the proverb goes ‘When’s the second best time to plant a tree?’ and the answer to that is today.”

T.J. Houpes can be reached at t.houpes.iii@gmail.com.

About the authors

Students in Steve Fox's Investigative Journalism & the Web class at UMass-Amherst have teamed up with the Globe to take a close-up look at the painful process of rebuilding from the June 2011 tornadoes that killed four and devastated communities in the Springfield area. Their work will also appear in the Boston Globe. Steve joined the journalism faculty at UMass-Amherst in 2007 and has 25 years of experience as an editor and reporter for print and online publications, including 10 as an editor at The Washington Post's award-winning website.

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