Wednesday, July 3, 2013

City launches website for disaster response

Resources and volunteers needed

Express Staff Writer

    When a flood or fire hits the Wood River Valley, locals are quick to offer help to neighbors. But due to a lack of organization during emergencies, volunteers and local resources can be underutilized.
    “Every time a flood strikes Hailey, which is about every three years on average, volunteers have showed up to help fill sandbags,” said Hailey Fire Chief Mike Chapman.
    The next time the city of Hailey is struck by a natural disaster, there could be a pool of citizens prepared and ready to respond. There will also be a website where people can go to offer help or seek help.
    The Hailey Fire Department, in partnership with the Wood River Amateur Radio Club and the Hailey Public Library, launched on Monday, a website that will enlist volunteers before and during a disaster, dispatching them to where they are needed most.
    The website will also screen local donors and the resources they offer, including trucks and equipment and administrative support.
    “While we do have access to state and federal resources, the greatest asset in our community is the people within it who come together in times of emergency,” Chapman wrote in a letter to the Hailey City Council, before launching the website.
    Chapman said in an interview that his son, Chris Chapman, who works in sales in New York City, discovered the opportunity after watching a Ted Talk YouTube video.
    In the video, Caitria and Morgan O’Neill describe the platform they developed after a tornado hit their Massachusetts hometown.
    The Hailey City Council on Monday unanimously gave support of the new program, which will cost the city $400 per year.
    “It’s a no-brainer,’ said Mayor Fritz Haemmerle.
    Last spring, Quigley Canyon flooded into the Deerfield subdivision. The Hailey Fire Department was pumping 3,000 gallons of water per minute into an empty canal and into the sewer system to keep water from entering homes.
    “The city only sandbags city infrastructure, not private homes,” said Chapman. “So citizens have to fend for themselves in a sense.”
Chapman said he hopes people will visit the website and make themselves available in case of an emergency.
“This will help manage volunteers before and during an emergency. We would have the ability to text, email and twitter them, and to get replies,” said Chapman.
“It streamlines an existing volunteer base and organizes spontaneous volunteers,” he said.
    Hailey volunteer firefighter Danielle Edelman said she heard many stories of people wanting to help during the Castle Rock Fire that threatened the Wood River Valley in 2007. She said people needed help to move or rescue animals, and to travel out of the smoke to Boise. Others wanted to bring food and blankets to fire crews, she said.
    “We have so many people here who care and want to help restore the community,” Edelman said. “People were turned away from helping, or they didn’t know how to help.”
    During an emergency, would be available from anywhere an Internet connection exists. Computer banks would also be deployed at the Hailey Public Library.
    “We are launching this from Hailey, but hopefully the county will take hold also,” said Chapman.
    “I hope the county integrates this into there emergency operations plan,” he said.

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