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Maple City plans for emergencies and disasters

September 20, 2018

During a meeting at the Meyersdale ambulance building Tuesday night, a question was posed: What would happen if a train derailed in the middle of town?

The question was asked by Meyersdale Borough Council President Jeff Irwin, bringing up an incident in Hyndman last year.

The answer Irwin received from Kevin Broadwater, emergency management coordinator for Meyersdale and Summit and Larimer townships, didn’t contain specific instructions.

“Well,” he said at the emergency management planning meeting, “there is the reason why we are here.”

The meeting was the first such gathering in the Meyersdale area in decades. Sixteen people, including first responders, school officials, emergency management representatives and health care workers, attended the planning session.

Broadwater called the meeting after about three months of planning.

He said that about 20 years ago similar meetings would take place and that he feels it is important to have plans in place that all parties understand.

“We know our history; all around us we have dealt with disasters,” he said. “Sometimes we get lucky and no one gets hurt, and sometimes we lose life.”

Bringing up a picture of his family on a projector screen, Broadwater said that family is the reason he volunteers for the position.

“That’s why I’m here,” he said. “I’m here because my family lives in this community and I do a lot of things to protect them.”

The meeting came on the heels of a Sept. 9 storm that brought the water level in town to 13 feet 6 inches at its height.

Although the event didn’t cause the meeting, Broadwater said it is a good example of why such gatherings are needed.

“We had an event. We had a nice little water incident,” he said. “There were road closures — quite a few of them. There were areas asked to evacuate.”

He continued to ask Somerset County Department of Emergency Services Director Joel Landis how he handled the flooding event. Landis’ answer garnered laughter from the room.

“Excellent,” he said. “At least you didn’t call me crying.”

Broadwater said that during the flooding event, the response went well with the exception of some media coverage. He said communication is a topic that needs to be discussed for future incidents.

Meyersdale Borough Councilman Dan Parisi said that due to the age of many residents, traditional outlets need to be used to alert the public. But, Parisi added that social media options should be explored. He used Google Maps as an example that could be used to show where roads are closed.

“I think Twitter is a good one,” he said. “But that’s in addition to the traditional means.”

Broadwater said that during the storm, Meyersdale’s flood control system held up and “did its job as designed.”

The borough is in the midst of an estimated $440,000 flood control effort that is largely being financed by a state Department of Community and Economic Development grant.

As part of the project, a separated wing wall near a baseball field at the Paul E. Fuller Playground needs to be replaced. Irwin said that earlier this month, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers approved a plan for the wall.

He said the next step is to put the project out for bids after solicitor Marc Valentine approves. He estimated that work could start in the spring.

The effectiveness of fire sirens was also discussed. Landis said there are newer public notification sirens that actually tell people what to do, using “shelter in place” as an example.

He said that he feels planning meetings are “extremely important.”

“Anytime we can prepare before something occurs,” he said, “the outcome can be better.”

The group is planning another meeting on Nov. 14 with early warning and public information being the main topics.

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