ELLSWORTH — In the wake of last week’s early snowstorm and extended power outage, many Mount Desert Islanders may be taking stock of how well they are prepared for when a natural disaster hits. And that’s a good thing, said Hancock County Emergency Management Agency Director Andrew Sankey, because preparedness is a crucial part of the equation that keeps people safe and alive during emergencies.
“What we try to do is really preach resiliency and preparedness, both for individual households and communities,” Sankey said from his Ellsworth office this week. “The question is, how resilient are we to be able to maintain our way of life … to make sure we don’t have any overly negative consequences?”
It is up to the members of each household to take what steps they can to be prepared, Sankey said, because when emergencies hit in semi-rural and rural areas like Mount Desert Island, there are not enough relief or rescue workers poised to step in, en-masse, to take care of everybody.
“The truth is, here in Maine, especially Down East Maine, there is no government agency at any level that is going to come to the communities’ rescue,” Sankey said.
Local governments do have a major role to play in disaster planning, Sankey said. Each town has its own emergency management director, usually the fire chief, who oversees disaster response operations. Local emergency responders will be put to work in any disaster, just as they are in any emergency. But the number of responders is limited. Especially in the first 72 hours after a disaster, people need to be prepared as best they can, he said.
There are two things that emergency responders do rely on. The first is that people are prepared within their own homes. The second is that people who have special medical needs or other requirements for assistance make those things known, Sankey said. Town officials, emergency responders and neighbors all need to know of those who may not be able to shovel themselves out in a storm, for instance, so in the event of a power outage, that person doesn’t get stuck in their house and suffer a tragedy.
“It is incumbent on people to communicate to town offices what special things are going on that should be known in the event of emergency,” Sankey said. “They’re not going to know unless someone tells them.”
Each household should do its best to keep up to two week’s worth of drinking water, food and medicine for themselves, as well as supplies for pets, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Specifically, families are encouraged to store one gallon of water per person per day, with a minimum of three-days supply on hand, and ideally, two weeks’ worth. Unopened, commercially bottled water is the safest and most reliable supply, CDC materials state.
It is recommended to store food that has a long storage life, requires little or no cooking, water or refrigeration, meets the needs of babies or other family members on special diets, meets pets’ needs and is not very salty or spicy, as these foods increase the need for drinking water, which may be in short supply.
There is a tradition here in Maine of small communities and people looking out for each other, Sankey said. That is one reason he is comfortable preaching the message of personal responsibility and preparedness. People here do not expect a big government response to a winter storm or power outage or other emergency, and that is not a bad thing.
“We have a long history going back many years that people will really pull together to help one another in a variety of positive ways,” he said. “That’s the key to success, and that’s how we prevent truly bad things from happening.”
Local authorities oftentimes have their hands full during an emergency event. But people often will call 911 in hopes of gaining information, such as where they might go to warm up for a few hours, Sankey said. Calling 911 for these purposes “really is not viable,” he said.
Anyone calling their local authorities for information during an event should dial 211, Sankey said. This number connects consumers with a comprehensive selection of health and human services available in their communities, and functions as a one-stop shop for all public social assistance information.