Searching for a Plan

Searching for a Plan

County officials want residents to prepare as much as the government, in order to handle a worst-case scenario.

When the time comes to evacuate because of a bad storm or a terrorist attack, county officials want residents to be armed with a personal preparedness plan.

At a Monday, July 24, seminar in Burke Centre, about 10 community members watched and heard a Fairfax County slide presentation about preparing for the worst, from bad weather to terrorist attacks. Patrick Gloyd, the executive director of the Burke Centre Conservancy, said he got the idea for the seminar because he felt the need for Burke Centre to have a plan in place for its residents.

“The first logical step is to see what the county has in place,” said Gloyd.

Gerald Jaskulski, assistant coordinator for the county’s Office of Emergency Management, showed examples of how programs have changed since 9/11. The county is more prepared and organized, said Jaskulski, but major problems come when residents themselves don’t do their part in the planning process. Jaskulski referred to the Hurricane Katrina disaster, where many residents waited for the local, state and federal government to give them a plan and execute it for them.

“The bottom line is people were more prepared in the 60s with the nuclear threat,” said Jaskulski.

FAIRFAX COUNTY takes an “all hazards” approach to emergency management, basically meaning that emergencies are emergencies, and they do not distinguish one as more important than another, said Jaskulski. Since recovery doesn’t happen overnight, he said part of the job of his office is looking at the long-term recovery for all types of disasters. But all of that can’t be possible, he said, without the help and support from the communities themselves.

“It takes everyone doing their part,” said Jaskulski.

Burke Centre residents James and Caroline Carroll came to the presentation to learn about what their part is supposed to actually be. It’s nice to know about all of the different programs and offices the county has in place, said Caroline Carroll, but she wants to know how that translates to her family. The majority of mothers in the neighborhood, she said, wouldn’t know what to do in the event of a disaster or evacuation.

“People don’t want to think about it,” said Caroline Carroll. “I’d rather think about it than suffer. I’m asking what I can do.”

Jaskulski provided a number Web sites people can go to, but didn’t give much more than that, aside from the breakdown of county offices and departments set up to handle disaster situations. Gloyd said he hoped to take away from the presentation the beginnings of a Burke Centre plan, so the residents there can work together as neighbors if and when the time comes.

“This at least gets the ball rolling,” said Gloyd. “Burke Centre is such a large community … we need to have a plan in place.”

Communication is key, said Caroline Carroll. The presentation was one step toward getting the word out, but only 10 people showed up out of thousands who live in the community. All of the Web sites Jaskulski mentioned are great, said Caroline Carroll, but not everyone is that connected or in tune with the Internet.

“We have all these seniors who don’t use the Internet,” said Shirley DiBartolo, a Burke resident. “If there’s a real emergency, they need a knock on the door.”

Terry Murtaugh, another Burke resident at the seminar, agreed. The information isn’t out in the community enough, and Web sites aren’t always the best answer.

“I think they need to reach out more, in terms of pushing the information out to the people,” said Murtaugh. “Make it readable.”

Caroline Carroll said it shouldn’t be that difficult to get the word out in other ways, since “window washers can stick something in your door.”

In the mean time, the Web sites are the place to start. Jaskulski said the main theme he wanted residents to take away from the presentation was to make sure each home has the ability to stay connected. He recommended buying a weather alert portable radio as one way of staying in tune with weather forecasts, especially if power is out and there aren’t many other ways to stay in touch with television or Internet alerts.

“It’s the only thing you can control in your life: being prepared for something,” said Jaskulski.