SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Special Report

April 23, 2013

Are we prepared? Disasters prove more costly as people move into storm-prone areas

(Continued)

NEWBURY, Mass. —

Preparation in America depends on two things: local dedication and regional cooperation. The strength of the relationships between state and local officials helps communities respond when a natural disaster has wiped out the cell phone network and power grid.

But storms are brazen trespassers, sneering Hulk-like at puny human boundaries. So a lot of relationships are needed.

Plum Island’s Merrimack River Beach Alliance isn’t unique but offers a good model for preparedness. It brings together representatives from three communities, three private citizens groups, state politicians, and at least seven state agencies, plus the Army Corps of Engineers. The National Guard, the Coast Guard and FEMA are not typically at such meetings.

The beach alliance has no formal authority, but given the breadth of its representation, it has clout, and has had some successes. “The level of communication has gone exponentially upwards,” says Bruce Tarr, a Massachusetts state senator who is its co-chairman.

Better communication is key for smaller communities, which by themselves don’t have the resources to respond effectively to disasters.

Laws have been changed to allow FEMA to bring in personnel and equipment ahead of major storms, which helps speed response, notes Timothy W. Manning, deputy administrator for protection and national preparedness at FEMA. But he says centralized command otherwise does not make response faster.

“The most important thing is being prepared yourself, having your family ready,” said Manning.

The United States’ start-local approach can lead to scattershot results, as Sandy showed, with some New Jersey communities suffering major damage while neighboring towns with better preparation did better.

That raises the question of whether the country should centralize disaster planning, a la the Netherlands, which responded to the catastrophic North Sea Flood of 1953 with the Delta Works, a massive waterworks project.

Arjen Boin, a governance expert from the Netherlands who holds appointments at Utrecht University and Louisiana State University, scoffs at the idea that the Netherlands works as a model for the vastly larger United States.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Special Report

Local News
  • 140765_SN_DLE_FESSENDEN4 Special Spaces transforms two downstairs rooms into playroom for Riley Fessenden

    BEVERLY -- What happens when the perfect kid-friendly playroom appears in your house overnight? Beverly's Fessenden kids were mostly speechless when they returned from seeing "The Little Mermaid" on Saturday and got their first look at the playroom t

    July 28, 2014 10 Photos

  • Beverly Hospital courier loses patients’ lab forms

    BEVERLY -- A courier for Beverly Hospital last month lost lab request forms for 54 patients that included names, health insurance identification numbers and, in some cases, Social Security numbers. The courier misplaced the forms, which were in a zip

    July 28, 2014

  • Big plans for three parks in the Point neighborhood SALEM -- One will be overhauled, another created from scratch, and a third will get a spiffed-up community garden. It's a good time to be a park in the Point neighborhood. The densely packed area just south of the city's downtown is on the verge of i

    July 28, 2014

  • Peabody could see school choice profit next year PEABODY -- After three years, the city's schools are projected not only to break even on school choice, but actually make a $30,000 profit. School officials expect to lose just under $300,000 in state aid next year for students who opt to attend scho

    July 28, 2014

  • 140723_SN_DLE_SALVARMY2 Dennis and Susan Knight take over Salem Salvation Army operation

    SALEM -- It was Christmas Eve in Sanford, Maine, but 8-year-old Dennis Knight and his three sisters had good reason to be short on holiday spirit: Their mom and dad had warned them there would be no Christmas that year. The family couldn't afford it.

    July 28, 2014 3 Photos