NORTHBRIDGE, Mass. – A meeting is planned Wednesday that may forever change the way Northbridge responds to emergencies.
The Northbridge Emergency Management Agency begins a faith-based initiative at 1 p.m. at Good Shepherd Church on Linwood Street, during which church leaders and members will be asked to become part of the town’s emergency response team.
Mark Widner, former emergency preparedness manager for the city of Independence, Mo. and now a certified emergency response trainer in Northbridge, said resiliency is needed in emergencies, and Massachusetts is one of the most resilient states he has ever seen.
That doesn't mean communities can’t become more resilient and that’s the goal of Wednesday’s meeting.
“If I ask someone to evacuate their home, I'm someone they don’t know so may refuse. I don’t have the credibility. But if the pastor of their church asks, they've already developed a trusting relationship,’’ Widner said.
Church leaders also know the day-to-day needs of their parishioners. “We want to build on that relationship and resources already known,’’ Widner said. It’s a two-way street. “What do faith-based organizations need that we can help them with?’’ Widner said.
People also have to start thinking of what defines a disaster, Widner said, and for most people it’s when they lose control.
The goal of emergency preparedness is to have as many people as possible maintaining control so emergency personnel can concentrate on those most in need.
Though state and federal help often is needed following a natural disaster, “all disasters start local and end local and response to a disaster is a group effort,’’ Widner said.
Becoming a member of the town’s certified emergency response team requires 24 hours of training, some of that hands-on.
Information on Community Emergency Response Teams training is available by calling Fire Chief Gary Nestor, the town’s emergency management director, at 508-234-8448.