NERAC Discipline Spotlight: Public Health
This blog is Part 2 of an 11-part series discussing the NERAC Council’s initiatives over the last 12 years specific to each of the public safety disciplines represented on the Council. Check back every 2-3 weeks for new posts!
The NERAC Council supports public health in the region by making critical sheltering equipment and supplies available to municipalities when they need them most, as well as providing funding for regional trainings and exercises. Richard Day, the Health Director for the town of Chelmsford, has been serving as the Council’s public health representative since 2010. Mr. Day also serves as the chair of the NERAC Sheltering Committee, where he guides NERAC’s mass care and sheltering work.
In an effort to ensure that municipalities have access to the equipment necessary to establish a shelter, NERAC has purchased 18 regionally available shelter trailers, 3 functional needs support trailers, and 1 animal sheltering trailer. Each shelter trailer is equipped with enough supplies to shelter approximately 100 people, including cots, pillows, blankets, first aid kits, wheelchairs, and a shelter-in-a-box kit. These shelter-in-a-box kits were developed by NERAC and contain the necessities for administering and managing a shelter, such as name tags, writing supplies, hygienic and sanitary supplies, and vests to identify shelter staff. One of these kits has been distributed directly to each municipality in the region as well. The 3 functional needs support trailers contain specialized equipment such as patient lifts, bariatric wheelchairs, shower chairs, transfer boards, and more to support municipalities when they need to shelter individuals with access or functional needs. The animal sheltering trailer, which contains crates, feeding, cleaning, and registration/tracking supplies for up to 60 animals, is designed for use at larger shelters where significant numbers of companion animals need to be sheltered. To assist in establishing local animal sheltering capabilities, NERAC has also provided every community in the region with 4 animal crates and an animal shelter-in-a-box kit. The shelter trailers, functional needs support trailers, and animal shelter trailer can all be accessed by municipalities through NERAC’s Regional Cache program.
NERAC also purchased 3 inflatable shelter trailers, which are soft-sided tents that can be taken off of a trailer and inflated in minutes. They have self-contained heating and air conditioning systems, and can be used as supplemental shelter space, or as a command or operations center. These trailers are located in Andover, Chelmsford, and Salem. Contact information for accessing them can be found here or through the NERAC smartphone app (download instructions can be found at the link above).
Over the years, the Council has also supported a variety of regional exercises designed to enhance or test public health capabilities. In 2012, NERAC hosted functional exercises in Chelmsford, Framingham, Lynn, and Middleton where public health professionals worked with personnel from several other disciplines to gain first-hand experience with NERAC’s shelter trailers by setting up a mock shelter and dealing with simulated shelter residents. The Council provided funding to support a tabletop exercise in 2014 with the North Shore – Cape Ann Emergency Preparedness Coalition where the participants worked to establish a drive-thru mass-dispensing site capable of vaccinating approximately 1,000 individuals in a 6-hour period. Most recently, NERAC supported a tabletop exercise in the Cape Ann region where the scenario involved bomb threats being issued to senior housing complexes in multiple communities. In response, Cape Ann communities had to evacuate and shelter individuals with access and functional needs on very short notice while the credibility of the threats was assessed. Exercises like these provide municipalities with a valuable opportunity to expand their public health capabilities, test and refine emergency plans, and enhance interjurisdictional and inter-disciplinary relationships.
For further information on the sheltering equipment available through the Regional Cache Program, please visit the regional resources page on the NERAC website. Additionally, for links to preparedness resources for working with individuals with access and functional needs, please visit NERAC’s Access and Functional Needs resource page.