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Hurricane Preparedness Advice for Bellingham Residents

Jul 28, 2016 06:00AM ● By Kenneth Hamwey

Deputy Fire Chief Mark Poirier is the go-to guy concerning emergency preparedness

written by KEN HAMWEY, Bulletin Staff Writer

The arrival of August should make Bellingham residents aware that hurricane season is in full swing. Fortunately, the town has a go-to guy when and if emergency preparedness is a priority.
Mark Poirier has been Bellingham’s Deputy Fire Chief for four years, but he also fills another role—he’s the town’s emergency management director, a position that puts him in the forefront when a hurricane or any emergency situation is about to strike.

Every town in Massachusetts has an appointed emergency management director, and Poirier, who has 23 years of experience as a firefighter, is Bellingham’s representative on the Norfolk Regional Emergency Planning Committee, which meets quarterly to review emergency plans and offers training for emergency situations.

“Being one of the nine towns that comprise the Norfolk committee is a benefit because we have access to more grant opportunities linked to emergency planning,” Poirier said; “but, now that we’re in the hurricane season, I want to emphasize to townspeople where their focus should be to deal with an emergency. The keys are to build an emergency kit and to stay informed.”

Poirier noted that extended power outages, flooding, and impassable, debris-covered roads are likely threats during a hurricane. He said that emergency kits should include items that will sustain a family in case isolation lasts for 3-5 days without power or being able to go to a store.
“While bottled water, food, a flashlight, radio and extra batteries, first-aid and sanitation items and clothing should be in everyone’s kit, it’s important to customize the kit to meet an individual’s needs and the needs of a family,” he emphasized. “Think about adding medications, eyeglasses, contact lenses, dentures, batteries for hearing aids or wheelchairs, lists of allergies, medical insurance information and medical records.”

An emergency kit should also include supplies for a pet, like food, pet carriers, medications and vaccination and medical records. “Emergency kits can make the difference between life and death,” Poirier said.

Staying informed as a hurricane approaches means monitoring media reports and following instructions from public safety officials. Information on severe weather watches and warnings is available from media sources and the National Weather Service. “It’s important to learn whether local authorities will use other communication and alerting tools to warn residents of a pending or current disaster situation and how they will provide information during and after a disaster,” Poirier said.

The 50-year-old Poirier also wants Bellingham residents to be aware of a 2-1-1 phone number. That number can be called before and during a major storm if one has questions or needs information on emergency resources. Mass. 2-1-1 is the Commonwealth’s primary non-emergency telephone call center during times of disasters and emergencies. The 2-1-1 number is free to the public and is available 24 hours a day and seven days a week. It is confidential and multi-lingual.

“Few people know about the 2-1-1 number,” Poirier said. “It’s important that Bellingham residents know about it and what it provides. Always consider the variety of ways to get information during an incident—radio, TV, social media, internet, cell phones and landline phones.”

Poirier was a lieutenant in Blackstone for 12 years and was Mendon’s deputy chief before joining the Bellingham Fire Department. Married and the father of three daughters, he wants families to be aware of several do’s and don’ts.

“Make sure your car is fully fueled,” he said. “Also, have cash on hand in case ATMs are not functioning because of a power outage. Elevate articles in your basement in the event of flooding and secure outside items. That includes things like lawn furniture, trash barrels, hanging plants, toys, and awnings that may become potential projectiles.”

One of Poirier’s don’ts involves avoiding using 9-1-1 for offering non-emergency information. “An example would be calling to report a fallen tree that has not impacted a residence or injured an individual,” he said. “Also, always assume power lines are live, even if your power is out, and avoid sight-seeing (viewing extent of damage) until emergency workers have completed their assignments and a state of emergency has been lifted.”

Poirier emphasized that the do’s and don’ts are important precautions that residents can take “to ensure that public safety officials can perform their tasks unimpeded.”
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