To the Editor
This letter is in response to the 26 August 2010 Free Press Standard articles titled “Boil alert not publicized” and “Village officials working on emergency plan.” History teaches us that in 1849, a massive cholera (waterborne disease) outbreak occurred in the United Kingdom. During this outbreak, 500 people died due to an infected water supply in a 10-day period. The 500 fatalities in and of itself is amazing, in that more didn’t die or become gravely ill. This was well before the time of antibiotics and modern medicine or communication systems that most enjoy today without a second thought. How was this outbreak stopped you might ask, by notifying the residents and removing the handle from the town water pump. Local officials took it upon themselves to solve the problem.
Now we leap forward 161 years, and the local government of Carrollton can’t come up with a way other than notifying “a TV station”, just one, WTOV-9, of a boil water alert. Why only notify one television station, why not all the Cleveland, Youngstown and Steubenville news stations that broadcast into Carroll County? Why not any of the myriad of radio stations which pepper the region? Stark, Tuscarawas, Columbiana and Jefferson Counties all have radio stations that broadcast into Carroll County. Why wasn’t the Times-Reporter or Repository notified to print an article the next day after the order was sent out? I know, how about using the Reverse 911® system that each and every Carroll Countian is paying for. Oh, I forgot, that hasn’t been installed and still doesn’t work after years of excuses and delays from the Sheriff’s Department and other entities, but we’re still paying for it. The National Weather Service (NWS) also makes announcements for multi-hazard events or AMBER Alert emergencies, why weren’t they notified? I know the Sheriff’s Department has confusion about the NWS as evidenced by their own tornado watch/warning blunder, so that question may answer itself. What about the use of the Emergency Alert (Broadcast) System? Here in Maryland, the local sheriff or officials break into television shows and advise of boil orders, weather emergencies, and AMBER Alerts. Also, here in Maryland, villages similar in size to Carrollton have set up mobile notification systems that blasts an email or text out to citizens who sign up for the FREE service. Information on road closures, school closures, weather alerts, and other public safety information is relayed almost instantly as an issue arises.
Instead of blaming technology, or the lack thereof, why not fall back on the tried and true, the use of common sense? If the Village was notified of the boil alert, why didn’t they notify the Health Department? Why didn’t they notify the Emergency Management Agency (EMA) or the Sheriff’s Department? Here’s a thought, next do those things and utilize the resources you already have at your disposal. Here is a cheap and valid solution, first make the appropriate notifications to the proper State, County or Local officials and more than one media source, then print up enough flyers to notify the residents in the effected area. These flyers don’t need to be on special colored paper, riddled with graphics and color logos, just enough information to make the notification. After that is done, use the police, fire and EMS resources to go door-to-door and either personally explain the order or leave a flyer on the door. This doesn’t mean take them out of service, but use them instead of them sitting in their homes or station watching television or running radar in some parking lot. The speed traps can be left alone for a time, while a true public service is provided to the residents. If the US Postal Service can go door-to-door and deliver mail, so can police, fire and EMS providers go door-to-door to make emergency notifications. Use the public address unit on the police, fire and EMS units to “address the public” of the boil order. I would also wager a bet that there are still enough “scanner-hounds” out there that live and breath by the information they hear on their police scanner, even if this boil water alert was “toned-out” as it were, to the fire department, more people would know and phone a friend than what was done by the Village.
One last item, I find it disturbing that nearly 9 years after the tragic events of 9/11, the Village of Carrollton is dealing with an antiquated emergency plan. It should be required reading of EVERY newly elected county or village official who is charged with ensuring the public safety and welfare and not reading or dusting it off until an emergency has already occurred and you are left explaining to the media, voters and hopefully not the victims/families why you didn’t act. Time and time again, preparedness has been shown to be the key to knowing what to do, not standing around pointing fingers at the other guy when you failed at your sworn obligation.
Again, as I have done in the past, I must give credit where credit is due. This time the credit goes to the Free Press Standard for posting the boil order on their website, Facebook, Twitter and Mobile sites. This proactive stance is far more than what was done by the village to notify the citizens of the boil order.
Kyle Lyons, MPH, RN, NREMT-P