by Kathy Danforth / Published August 2014
Silverthorn Hernando HOA
Silverthorn Hernando HOA of Brooksville, Florida, winner of the Disaster Preparedness category for large communities, has taken advantage of CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) training to prepare their community for dealing with a possible emergency. Emergency Preparedness Committee Chairperson Sharon Cullen reports, “Our committee has 27 members, of whom about 18 are CERT-trained. Seventeen members are full-time, and others—many of whom have been trained before—are willing to help in an emergency.”
The team’s mission includes training, developing procedures, participating in drills, securing supplies, and educating the community. “At the end of 2012, we completely reorganized our manual, consolidating the procedures we had for before and after an event, including additional roles and including checklists because you can’t read through material during an event. Our manual is a living document,” Cullen advises, “and we’ll make changes every couple of months.”
“We participate in tabletop training or drills every year, and sometimes we do both. This summer, we will have a complete drill covering communication, search and rescue, damage assessment, and first aid. Last year, we had an exercise to put up the hurricane shutters and made some changes to our plan based on our experience with that. We’ve adjusted our method of securing pool equipment. Last year, we bought a portable generator and had it hardwired at the community center, so we’ve added photos and instructions for operating it,” Cullen reports.
“This past year, we were very fortunate and obtained a grant from the county Neighborhood Emergency Preparedness Program for supplies and training,” Cullen explains. “With that we have conducted CPR/AED and first aid training for residents, and about 70 have trained so far. We also purchased a large amount of equipment and supplies with the grant funds.”
The community has brought in the local fire department for educational seminars at homeowner meetings. “Unfortunately, in this case, there’s not a strong turnout at the meetings as there has been in the past, because we have a strong board and the residents are happy. However, we learned that it’s important to be extremely careful with the new energy-efficient bulbs because if the mercury gets in a cut, it creates a serious wound. Their directions on fire extinguishers were also helpful—stand at a distance when using an extinguisher on a grease fire, as the pressure will send the skillet and contents into the air. Also, as a result of their information, we purchased new fire extinguishers because we learned that they are useless if not maintained to keep the powder flowing freely.”
As a participant in the Strategic National Stockpile program, the community has a separate procedure outlining dispensing of medication. “In case of an event requiring mass treatment, the medicine will come from a national warehouse to be dispensed within 48 hours of the need,” Cullen notes. “We’re excited to be part of this so our residents wouldn’t have an extended wait in public areas to be treated.”
After a disaster, communication methods include 24 radios, e-mail blasts, signs at the entrance, an in-house television channel, and assessment teams who would be circulating in the neighborhood. “We’re also developing our own website separate from the one through our management company to enable more flexibility and benefit to the residents,” Cullen adds. Cullen shares, “The Assistant Chief of the fire department told me, ‘I’ve never known a community to have a plan as extensive as yours.’ I feel like we’re very prepared.” Silverthorn is committed to making an ongoing investment of time and money to mitigate the effects of any disasters headed their way.
Lakes of Mt. Dora
Lakes of Mt. Dora (LOMD), a 55+ HOA located in Mt. Dora, is the winner of the Disaster Preparedness category for small communities. Their Emergency Preparedness Team was created in 2010 when neighbors Gloria Goldfaden and Cyd Busko, who had both lived in South Florida and experienced the effects of hurricanes there, decided they were willing to volunteer to help with disaster preparedness. “We found that there was no emergency preparedness in place,” Goldfaden reports, “and we realized it was important that we get to work on that. In addition to hurricanes, warnings for tornadoes are not uncommon, and we live near Ocala National Forest and the Seminole Forest so there’s a wildfire risk. Also, Lake County is the number two location on earth for lightning strikes, so that can start a fire.’”
“We began to spread the word and were fortunate. Right away volunteers stepped forward—very professional and overqualified individuals, and they’re wonderful,” says Busko. “The manager and the board have the ultimate responsibility to mitigate damage to life and property, but we are a team approved by the board for after-hours support. The mission statement, which is on our emergency preparedness Web page, is: Our goal is to provide relevant information to the residents of LOMD in order to help us prepare ourselves and our community for emergency situations and subsequent recovery.”
The 56 volunteers, along with an additional eight Neighborhood Watch volunteers, who will assist if needed, are divided into teams. “The fundamental team is our Emergency Area Representa-tives, or block captains,” ex-plains Goldfaden. “They have radios and will perform the initial first step of immediately checking needs and reporting to the command center.”
The other teams have a designated leader and assistant to serve in the following areas:
Busko relates, “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel for disaster preparedness, but just find the information. We’re basically following the FEMA facilitators’ guide ‘Are You Ready?’ On our website are different categories for the residents with links for Florida disaster preparation, Lake County, pets, storm updates, hurricane preparation guide, FEMA, contacts, a YouTube video on CPR, and our volunteers. We focus on preparedness—having the supplies you need in your home as well as our preparation at the clubhouse. We’ve raised thousands of dollars through pancake breakfast fundraisers to purchase emergency equipment. In addition, everyone needs to have their own family plan.”
As part of their training, several team members have taken National Weather Service Skywarn training. “The Skywarn training is more than just for our community,” Goldfaden points out. “They may call and ask what we see in our area—that’s where The Weather Channel gets their information.”
“Our team is part of the National Formidable Footprint Exercises by FEMA,” Goldfaden states. “We simulate the preparation for hurricanes and tornadoes. We’ve also done a tabletop exercise put on by Lake County Emergency Management Office. Our largest simulation was created by our communications team leader, who placed flags describing 20 scenarios throughout the community. The area representatives had to find their situation, such as a gas leak or child with a cut, and we tested how the communication flowed. Overall it was quite successful, but we learned that we are short on radios.”
“We had 38 people turn out at that exercise,” Busko remarks. “On a weekend, that’s amazing. At the debriefing, so many people had ideas. They’re excited about doing more exercises and are very committed.”
“The Lake County Commissioners awarded us a certificate as one of two communities in Lake County that are considered disaster ready,” says Goldfaden. This is a starting point rather than a resting point, though, as Lakes of Mt. Dora plans to press forward to be better prepared for any disaster.