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Don't delay disaster planning

December 06, 2005

With less than a month left in 2005, Washington County Commissioner Doris Nipps has emerged with a top contender for understatement of the year.

After reading Erin Cunningham's Nov. 27 story about Washington County's interim emergency evacuation plan, Nipps offered the following:

"It does look like we have some serious work that needs to be done," she said.

No kidding. The current plan pays more attention to the needs of livestock than to getting human residents of the county ready to evacuate in the event of a disaster.

Four years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the fact that there isn't a plan that addresses the possibility of a terrorist attack on the nearby Camp David presidential retreat is nothing short of a scandal.

We don't blame Emergency Planner Stoyan Russell, the plan's author, although he could use some sensitivity training in view of his remarks about the county's indigent residents.

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Before The Herald-Mail requested a copy of the plan in September, the plan hadn't been reviewed by anybody since June, even though Hurricane Katrina should have provided someone in county government with a wake-up call.

Here's a few suggestions for Nipps and her fellow commissioners:

Don't wait until the plan is reviewed by other agencies before reviewing it. Post the draft on the county's Web site now, so that citizens with Internet access can look at it. The site already has an emergency preparedness "tip of the week" posted, so it shouldn't be tough to post the entire draft.

Determine the cost of the state-prepared emergency services checklist cards, which have a magnet for posting them on the family refrigerator. Then work with local fire and rescue companies to have them distributed.

We're disturbed by the attitude that seems to prevail here - the idea that when it comes to disaster planning, "we'll get around to it."

Disasters are often made worse by the fact that they are unexpected. Betting that there won't be one before the plan's draft is reviewed and adopted is foolish.

Start the education process now, so that if the worst happens, citizens aren't puzzled about where to turn for help.

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