HARVARD -- The Board of Health Tuesday night discussed how to assess possible hazards that might befall the community in terms of a response plan.
The issue came up when member Sharon McCarthy briefed other board members on a recent Massachusetts Health Officers Association seminar she attended last month.
Billed as an educational meeting, the topic was "Hazard and Vulnerability Assessment: Understanding What Could Jappen."
Donald L. Schmidt, CEO of Preparedness, LLC, conducted the session. With an alphabet soup of letters attesting to his credentials and authorship of six books on related subjects to his credit, including risk and emergency management and terrorism, Schmidt has conducted risk assessments and impact hazard analyses for numerous private and public entities over his 30-year career in the field. Currently, he chairs the technical committee that writes the MHOA's National Preparedness Standard handbook.
In short, the presenter was an expert.
Basically, the approach Schmidt laid out at the MHOA meeting focused on creating a go-to document for local health boards to follow in case of disaster, whether it's national, natural or otherwise, McCarthy said.
The format is divided into three categories: Identifying potential hazards, determining who's at risk and assessing likely impacts, both to the community and the local health board. In her view, this is a useful way for this board to build a document "to help us deal with local hazards."
"Communication is part of it as well as personal survival," she said, noting that in the wake of a disaster, there could be an outbreak of disease.
"Hopefully, there are plans in place to address that," via federal and state emergency management agencies such as FEMA and MEMA, said Nashoba Associated Health Boards agent Ira Grossman.
Resident Deborah Skauen-Hinchliffe noted that in addition to emergency shelters for people, there should be someplace safe for pets and a what to do plan in place that addresses the dilemma people face if they must leave their homes fast and for awhile.
In terms of likely hazards, such as snow and ice storms, the town is pretty well prepared, member Lorin Johnson said, ticking off essentials available to townspeople such as generators to provide heat or air conditioning if the power goes out for an extended period. "Not to belittle Mr. Schmidt, but I'd rather be concise," he said.
Which seems to be the point of the assessment document as McCarthy explained it. Rather than prepare a global list with virtually endless permutations, it would apparently set practical parameters so that town-centric response plans could be developed.
"You need a rubric" to weight the probability of various hazards by the numbers and target the "high impact few" among the many, she explained.
"There's lots of information out there" on a variety of websites, McCarthy said, including government literature. But the process isn't all about research. It begins with assembling a planning team consisting of public safety and health officials.
Chairman Tom Philippou said the logical next step would be to contact the fire and police chiefs, "to see what the current emergency response plan is" and find out if they're interested in working with the health board on a risk assessment.
The board agreed to do so.