Beaver Co. PA Field Report: EMS and RC say "You're on Your Own" : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Y2K Informational Meeting Highlights October 11, 1999 Beaver Falls, PA (Population: Around 11,000)

The moderator is the owner of a computer sales and support business, a quiet, poised man in his mid-30s. Been a GI for a year. Manages to give an amazingly balanced presentation, pointing out the dangers, but mentioning whatever ameliorating factors or opinions exist as well. He manages to convey utter sincerity and a belief that serious difficulties lie ahead. He invites questions, offers literature, and introduces the speakers.

From Wayne Harley, Beaver County EMS: [Didnt get a program; apologize for any misspellings and lack of titles. There was an unexpected turnout of over 40 people, mostly gray haired.]

(Chit-chat. History of Emergency Management. Old Civilian defense poster and helmet. Blah blah blah)

When you call 911, the call is routed through Rochester, then to Pittsburgh [45-50 miles upriver] and back. If a system is Enhanced 911, as ours is, when a call comes through, data about the location of the caller appears on a monitor. The data part of the call comes from Philadelphia, on the other side of the state. All of SW Pennsylvanias 911 calls are routed this way. The county has done everything it could possibly think of to do to make sure both its 911 and computer systems are ready. But were dependent on all of the telecoms that relay our calls.

Even if 911 should fail, local numbers may work. People should have the number of local emergency services on hand. Beaver Falls, however, has no police desk any more. [The church were meeting in is next to the crime-ridden Projects. Good luck, in reaching the police, folks.]

EMS has acquired some generators that can be provided to mass care centers (shelters), and to maintain life support in private residences. We will have to set priorities. [Note future tense.]

Q: How do we notify you if someone in our family is on a life-support system?

A: You should have filled in one of those cards we send out every January. Last year it was February, though. We have a card box with 35-50 names.

Q: If we didnt fill out a card, who should we call?

A: You could call Bob at the fire hall.

Q: But I dont live here; I just came for the meeting. Should I call 911 directly?

A: Well I guess you could just call your local fire department.

We have some backup communications, although the radio towers throughout the county are tied to phone lines, too. But well have other systems in place by then. [He used two acronyms that I believe signify corps of Ham operators.]

Q: What local radio stations provide emergency broadcasts?

A: Well, WVBP (Beaver Falls) doesnt have a generator. They sometimes go down in a storm. If you cant get them, your best bet is probably KDKA [50,000W clear channel out of the Burgh.]

Citizens are urged to use extreme caution when installing and running generators. Fuel storage is especially hazardous, posing a potential danger to surrounding structures as well as the one where its located. The fire department has been thorough in checking for y2k problems and theyll have pumper trucks that are ready even if water is down.

The National Guard has water buffaloes that can be set up. Four of them are in use right now in the south part of the county at the schools, because the wells there failed during the drought.

We have about 100 members of the NG in Chippewa. We have used them before and theyre ready if we need to call them to help out now.

But we (the county EMS) are geared for smaller problems. We cant help everybody; we have too few people, and too few resources. Thats why were here helping you prepare to help yourselves.

Q: Do you have any information on the status of the countys chemical plants? [Your reporter asked.]

A: There are 70 hazardous chemical sites in the county. [He named some of the plants handling the most hazardous, but I was stunned by the number 70 and my mind froze at the mention of chlorine gas and I neither wrote down nor recall any detail. Pre-Traumatic Shock Syndrome. The flash-forwards are nearly constant now, you know.]

Q: What can you tell us about their status? [I recovered enough to ask]

A: None of them are expecting any problems.

Q: Has their work been independently verified and validated?

A: For the most part, it seems all their work was done in-house. Theres no overseeing body to gather information.

[So, essentially, what we have is a status report crafted by the PR and legal departments, with no verifiable evidence, from an industry with no regulating body, telling us that these 70 plants are expecting no problems.]

Duquesne Light says theyre ready. [They also assured the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that our nuclear plants, Shippingport Units I and II, were completely ready less than two weeks after they reported to the NRC that they were not. Draw your own conclusions.]

The sewer authorities have done everything possible to assure they will continue to work. And the county will be sure to send your usual January tax bills on time.

* * *

There were some general questions about alternate sources of heat, storing water, using fire extinguishers and so on. Then the representative from the Red Cross spoke.

Ron Stubs, Red Cross [Same apology for misspellings, lack of title]

Clara Barton, blah, blah, blah

The two computers we have are compliant and so are our phones, and we have a (acronym) radio. Our philosophy about y2k is to plan for the worst: Power is down, phones are down, and the New Madrid fault quaked. Then, we look at how to prepare each municipality. How would we provide heat and water to shelters? We can support a couple facilities for vulnerable populations, but thats about all. So for a couple of weeks, youre on your own. The best we can do is to help you to prepare.

Develop a disaster plan. Sit down with your families and work it all out. [Gave some exampleswhere to meet, how to contact family members who are away from the house, etc.] And read our two booklets: the Y2K brochure and the Family Disaster Supply Kit. Store food and water. Sugar and protein. Dont use candles or any open flame. Have enough medications for a couple of months just in case. [!] Dont store gas; walking is good. Dont do panic buying; theres only a one week supply in the stores.

Q. Will the Red Cross be staffing shelters ahead of time?

A. No, the boroughs will notify EMS if they need help and EMS will notify us. We have told them we can have a mass care center set up within two hours.

Q. So then, shelters wont be set up until after the fact.

A. Thats right.

Q. How many shelters do you have lined up right now?

A. Four, with room for about 200 each. Thats 800 people. The countys population is 186,000. So you need to be prepared to shelter-in-place.

On December 31, the police, fire, and city workers will all be on duty. If the phones go down, theyll be stationed everywhere, with a command center at the City Building.

And well be down at EMS, so if you need us, call us. Good night.

* * *

And thats the way things are folks, in Beaver County, Pennsylvania. Just like Paul Milne said: People, youre on your own.

God help us all.

-- Faith Weaver (, October 12, 1999


Well, well...

The first honest answer in eight months. We are on our own, and the bulk of the population has been lulled to sleep. Most don't keep even two days supplies, let alone TWO WEEKS!


It's kind of like that Oakland meeting of Church pastors. NOW the Government throws this in our laps.

BTW, how does a County in Pennsylvania with 186,000 people accumulate food for two to three weeks winter if you are now told NOT to stockpile 'cause "they have only three days of food on the shelves??"

I hate to say this, but if ANYTHING like this materializes, next year's politics could be a real ZOO!

-- K. Stevens (kstevens@ It's ALL going away in, October 13, 1999.

P.S. If it goes down like the EMS types seem to imply, there will be deaths due to exposure, fire, etc. And we were told NOT to prepare, and those who did were ridiculed...well, it sounds as if the leadership, both corporate and political, are evidencing a

"Depraved indifference to HUMAN LIFE."

I hope the politics meets out Justice next year. (of course, it could ALL be just a BITR.)

-- K. Stevens (kstevens@ It's ALL going away in, October 13, 1999.

Thank you for your report, Faith.

-- Ashton & Leska in Cascadia (, October 13, 1999.

Bold off!

Thats better.

-- stash (, October 13, 1999.


Was the person that said "and the New Madrid fault quacked" being serious about preparing as a worse case senario or was it meant to be a flip remark on her part? I live in Missouri and would like to know if there is any information about the fault that would have them include this in their worse case senario plans? Have you heard anything more about this?

You really did a great job on taking notes and reporting.Thanks.

-- Maggie (, October 13, 1999.

Maggie, the reference to the New Madrid fault seemed to be an attempt to illustrate how EMA takes all kinds of possibilities for disaster into consideration (before it decides that it has no people or resources to deal with it). I know the feeling, though, of being extra alert for any hints of additional danger. Thanks for your kind comments.

-- Faith Weaver (, October 13, 1999.

I have a friend, calls herself Sally Forth. She is tenacious, a dynamo. She facilitates change. You remind me of her, Faith.

-- Donna (, October 13, 1999.

Good report, thank you.

What really stunned me for a moment of indrawn breath was hidden in the text-you have used the perfect words to describe what the last almost 2 yrs of dealing with this issue has been-PreTraumatic Stress Syndrome with Flash-Forwards! What a superb turn of phrase to describe the disconnect between what is, and what may be. Thanks

-- LauraA (, October 13, 1999.

Good reporting Faith.

Best of luck! Those 70 chemical self-reports would have my jaw dropping in freeze mode too.

Be sure to have mobile back-up plans.


-- Diane J. Squire (, October 13, 1999.

I have been doing a weekly newspaper series on Y2K since January in the Mon Valley section of Pennsylvania. In addition, I have either coordinated or consulted on no less than six Y2K community information meetings since July.

Regards emergency management in the state, that scares me. If you are interested in copies of articles published on the subject, let me know.

What I've discovered is that in Pennsylvania the emergency management coordinator in a community is a volunteer appointment. Often times it's the fire or police chief -a conflict of interest, stated the county director. Sometimes it's a council member, dog catcher or other paid position in the community. Also, the fire departments are volunteer.

Taking this into consideration, understand that as a voluteer position there are a variety of attitudes for the position. If the position is held by the fire chief, for instance, they are convinced they have seen just about every kind of emergency imaginable since being on the fire department. Therefore, preparing for Y2K is unnecessary. I've had fire chief/ems coordinators actually tell me they didn't believe in Y2K and they would handle an emergency if it came about by improvising, like they do in all other emergencies. I did an article about a borough that lost electricity for a day during the extreme heat which shows improvising methods taken.

In an interview with Washington County public safety director I was advised that about 1/3 of the directors are active in attending meetings, keeping up with new material and gung-ho on preparation. Another 1/3 read materal sent them by the county, maybe attend one or 2 meetings a year and nothing beyond that. The final 1/3 do nothing. That represents about 2/3 of the communities in that county in a less than acceptable situation if Y2K does in fact present a lot of problems. Unfortunately, I live in one of those communities.

In a meeting of local officials, police, ems, fire and other representatives we were told first from the emergency section that they could handle any emergency that may come, because they've done it in the past. Then the police chief stated that if four incidents came about at the same time, there wouldn't be enough personnel to cover them. When asked how they would prioritze four fires, for instance, they resonded that some would just burn.

At the same time, when the suggestion to have additional volunteer help ready from the community I was told that could present a liability concern for the borough since they weren't properly trained like fire and emergency personnel were. Give me a break.

The Y2K series was started in January when I learned about what the state was doing. I was angry about the lack of information that was being filtered into this area while the governor's office was presenting itself as leading the country in Y2K. I have documentation of how they partnered with beer distrtibutors before considering the many rural communities in the state. The Mon Valley is situated in southwestern Pennsylvania and includes three counties.

Bottom line - we are on our own. In all the meetings I've either covered for the newspaper of participated in the coordination of, it was confirmed that shelters are not being prepared in advance. As a meeter of fact yesterday we were told to have at least a five day supply of food and if it's necessary to go to a shelter, take the food with you. What happens to the person who forgets to take the food. Does that person not get fed, but kept warm?

Another point - I discovered that some of the locations the county has decided for shelters don't have the resources to provide power if we lose electricity. For instance, a school that has stated they have a generator, it was discovered the generator will only handle lighting, not heat.

Another thing, the senior high rises have a generator, but only for limited useage. They, too, are not capable of keeping heat on. They also will not be able to keep the elevators operating. If an emergency arises, those senior citizens will be unable to be evacuated without assistance, especially those with special needs. While this information is known, the local officials have done nothing to plan on how to resolve it in the event of an emergency.

A local mayor discussed the situation with both the state and federal emergency management agency and was told that they would have to priortize the lists of areas that need help because they won't have personnel to help everyone. Another reason why we're on our own. And many local officials have done nothing on a community level for preparation because they are certain nothing will happen. Certainly makes you want to leave the area during the holidays.

If you want more information, let me know. I've been trying to get the word out.

Joanna Blair

-- Joanna Blair (, October 17, 1999.

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