emergency preparedness

Explosions and Evacuations

If you live in and around the Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts, or listen to the local or national news, you’ve heard about the gas incident. On an unsuspecting Thursday evening in September 2018, gas explosions across three MV towns were leveling homes, devastating families, chasing thousands out of the area and sadly, taking the life of one young man.

I left my house for a networking event at the start of this unprecedented occurrence completely unaware of what was happening all around me. There was no mention of it during the local event until I was headed out the door. Par for the course, my phone was at zero battery, so I was oblivious to any alerts or attempts to reach me. Once in the car returning home, breaking news reports on the radio confirmed what was happening and included immediate evacuation orders for my home town. With my phone back online, a quick call to my husband assured me that he had in fact turned the gas off at our home, and together with neighbors helped others do so as well. I began to receive a steady stream of messages from family and friends. Offers to stay at their homes and inquiries for my family’s well-being came flooding in.

We were headed to my sister’s for the night, so I grabbed a bag and put in a few overnight essentials. On my way out, I swiped photos from the walls and surfaces. Family photos are the things that people seem to want most in a situation like this, aren’t they? My son walked through the house taking a video of each room on his way out, should the need arise for insurance purposes. Good boy. The roads were jammed and highway exits closed for entry into the town. Luckily we were headed in the opposite direction. Fire trucks, police cruisers and ambulances whizzed by. Gas and electricity services were being shut down in affected towns. My family was safe, and that of course, was all that mattered at the time.

Did I mention that this happened during National Emergency Preparedness Month? Just a couple of days before, our NAPO-NE Chapter hosted a presentation by a retired Red Cross worker on emergency preparedness. The newsletter I published just a few weeks’ prior offered tips on preparing an emergency kit. This stuff was fresh in my mind. And yet, this was not an emergency that provided any amount of time to prepare. This was not an emergency with advanced warning warning. This was not an emergency where shelter in place would be acceptable. This emergency meant get out now.

We were fortunate. Our street was cleared for return the next morning. The electricity was back on. Getting the gas turned back on was going to be a process-who knew how long it would take? With temperate weather, we could live with that. Cold showers aside, it was a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things. Our gas was restored just a few days later.

Although this type of emergency did not allow us the time to gather belongings, it reinforced the need to prepare. It also prompted some recommendations to kick things up a notch. For instance, you may have important documents filed and easy to retrieve. Are they in a fire-proof box? Do you have a hard copy of all the passwords you use for the many programs and websites you use? Have you made copies of your credit cards, front and back? Does a trusted friend or family member have access to your home? Is your grab and go bag easily accessible and really ready to go?

 The challenge isn’t over for many, who as of this writing, remain without heat and hot water. The most severely injured remain hospitalized. Area business such as restaurants that rely on gas are anxiously awaiting gas service; their employees anxiously await their return to work. And yet, the best in people shines through. Donations of blankets, warm clothing, diapers and food are pouring into the area. Hotels and fitness centers are offering those affected a place to take a hot shower. Private groups have set up meal trains. Good deeds have come out of a bad situation.

Neighbor helping neighbor – as it should be.