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Emergency PreparednessDan Ferguson presented a draft of a new Emergency Preparedness Plan to the Lansing Town Board Wednesday.  Ferguson, a member of the town's Emergency Preparedness Committee, told the Board they are covered in case of an emergency, but the draft plan must be finalized and approved, and details of the plan must be determined by the board.  The committee was formed after Highway Superintendent Jack French told the Town Board in July, 2014 that Lansing was not prepared for disasters and admonished the board to develop a disaster preparedness plan.  The draft plan will help officials activate an actual emergency response in the Town.

"The good news is that the Town is well off," he said.  "You have some very strong people.  Some very good people.  The Department of Public works.  The Fire Department.  If an emergency were to happen tomorrow I believe we are prepared.  The catch is that you want to make sure you have that in writing to keep all the moving parts together.  You know emergencies happen and in order to deal with them you need to have a plan in place.  Essentially the Town does have an emergency plan, thanks to the committee."

A A 2014 storm cut power at the Highway Department for eight to ten hours, during which time critical emergency equipment was disabled.  That included the gas pump that fuels both highway Department vehicles and Lansing Fire Department vehicles.  The chain of command was tenuous because communications were spotty.  French found himself on Salmon Creek Road, unable to reach his road crew.

The Town Board responded by approving new communications equipment for the Highway Department as well as an emergency generator.  The special radios, capable of tying into the county-wide emergency network, are currently in service.  But a generator has yet to be installed.  Ferguson said that Lansing is already part of the county-wide mutual aid plan, and the draft preparedness plan will guide officials in declaring an emergency and activating and carrying out future emergency responses.

An Emergency Preparedness Committee was recruited to craft a plan that will guide Town Officials when they are required to manage an emergency.  The committee includes representatives from the Town, Fire Department and School District, among others.  It's members include Katrina Binkewicz, Karen Bishop, Councilman Doug Dake, Lynn Day, Glenn Fenner, Dan Ferguson, John Fleming , Mary June King, Kathy Miller and William H. Miller (Chair).

Ferguson, a Lansing High School teacher, firefighter and EMT, said that the plan is based on proven, existing plans from other municipalities, and state and federal procedures.  The plan covers responsibilities of the Town Supervisor in declaring an emergency, on how and where to set up a command post, the chain of command and roles in the community that are vital in responding to a disaster.  He said that there can only be one person in charge, but that person will have to know how to delegate.  Many of the positions and tasks are determined by FEMA.

Dan FergusonDan Ferguson (center) presented a draft emergency preparedness plan to the Lansing Town Board Wednesday

He told the board the key person in an emergency is a Public Information Officer, and said it would be important to appoint the right person in that role.  As French found last year, communications during a disaster are unpredictable, so a key challenge is getting accurate, solid information to townspeople in various available ways.

"We all know that information is power in an emergency," Ferguson said. "An uninformed public or a scantily informed public ca create as much of a hazard as a public that doesn't know anything.  You want somebody who knows how to work with the media, who knows how to work with people, and understands the true nature of emergencies.  It's all about keeping things calm, consistent, and sending a simple message."

The draft provides a skeleton of a plan that will help town officials if an emergency occurs now.  But Ferguson said it will be a much more useful tool once flow charts, the chain of command, and procedures are added.  he noted that good records keeping is essential in emergencies to make sure that FEMA funds or other aid can be reimbursed.  He said there is also more work to be done in specifying how the Town will work with neighboring and county agencies.  The plan also covers handling animals in emergencies.  Dake said the committee would also be identifying resources and potential trouble spots around the town.

"If we have a big emergency tomorrow we likely can not handle that plan by ourselves," Ferguson warned.  "So we need to tap into those resources.  And some of those resources we don't even own ourselves.  We don't have our own police department, so we have to work cooperatively with those agencies.  As we move forward that's where the work will tie in.  We need to contact the Sheriff's Department and get them on board with some of these other things."

"Looking at what just happened in South Carolina, we need to be thinking about what happens when there is a lack of information," Dake said.  "People gathered around barricades, or missing from cars... and all of a sudden they're dead."

Ferguson said that the Town's responsibility in emergencies can only go so far.  He argued that every citizen has the responsibility to be prepared with food, water and supplies for their families and homes.  Board members suggested adding resources to the Town Web site, including a 'Citizen's Guide' outlining a shopping list of emergency equipment and procedures for dealing with emergencies.

Ferguson said the committee has worked in cooperation with the Tompkins County Department of Emergency Response in crafting the plan.  He said that any plan is worthless unless it can be followed, and that specific roles and procedures have yet to be filled in.

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