Friday, January 28, 2011


Early this week, there was serious trouble in a neighboring community---the Lake Erie shoreline village of Fairport Harbor. At about six a.m. in the sub-zero darkness, two regulators (the main regulator and a back-up "fail-safe" regulator) failed in the large gas line that feeds the natural gas into the village. Gas surged at high pressure into homes throughout the village, with resulting explosion and fires.

The toll was not as bad as it could have been. Despite the damaged and destroyed homes and the displaced and traumatized families, not one person was killed or injured. That outcome was less a miracle than it was the result of the departments and agencies of our county planning and training consistently for any circumstances that might possibly happen.

The immediate cooperation of fire departments from surrounding communities, even from other counties, also had a bearing on the outcome. Their immediate and effective response had been planned well ahead of time through mutual aid agreements and cooperative exercises.

That makes me think of Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans. In the Fairport Harbor situation, our officials and departments and agencies didn't wait for the state; they didn't wait for the feds; the response was immediate and local. Do you hear that, New Orleans? It was IMMEDIATE and LOCAL!

The habit of careful planning and training has come about because our communities have not presumed a "can't happen to us" attitude. Our agencies have operated on the realization that the unexpected, when it happens, will be just that--unexpected! Our ethic has been to "Be prepared."

That proactive stance exhibited the same good results in the summer of 2006 when our entire county and part of an adjacent county experienced what was later designated as a "thousand-year flood." The floods came swiftly in the night, but our emergency agencies were alert and ready.

One wonders if New Orleans officials have learned their lesson from the outcome of the flooding after Katrina. Interviews on TV before that historic flooding--indeed, before the hurricane arrived---strongly indicated a "can't happen to us" attitude on the part of that city, as well as their apparent belief that, if something went wrong, the cavalry (Uncle Sam) would come roaring in and carry them safely off. They didn't even seem to know enough to store their rescue vehicles above the possible flood zones. If any cogent disaster planning ever existed, it was on paper only.

It pays for all of us, in all of our communities across the country, to remember that Uncle Sam is never as close to your neighborhoods as your own people are, and immediate response is the key to saving lives.