February 18, 2013

Disaster experts promote preparedness

By Chris Fasolino

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Organizers and guests at Saturday’s Disaster Awareness Day encouraged disaster preparedness, helped raise funds for disaster efforts and highlighted the role of animals in rescue situations.

Held at the North Country Cultural Center for the Arts on Brinkerhoff Street, the event was sponsored by the Long Term Recovery Group, partnered with Catholic Charities. The Long Term Recovery Group is a new organization that has been formed in the wake of Tropical Storms Irene and Lee.

Tropical Storm Lee caused considerable flooding in Plattsburgh in 2011, and Tropical Storm Irene had devastating effects on parts of the North Country.

The Long Term Recovery Group consists of about 60 health and human services agencies. The United Way established the group at the request of FEMA, said Larry Pickreign, United Way outreach coordinator.

“All these agencies are here ready for the recovery stage if a disaster strikes again,” he said.

“We all sit at the table now and discuss preparedness — and how to help folks that are still recovering. People are still recovering from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. We are helping people with that, but we are also going to stay established forever to help with future disasters.”

Caroline Johr, who is with Catholic Charities Disaster Case Management, also noted that repairs are continuing.

“We were looking at damage from Irene. People need to fix roofs, and they need to get rid of black mold. We’re trying to raise funds to help cover the cost of these things,” she said.

The event was held at the North Country Cultural Center for the Arts. A silent auction of works of art will help to raise money for relief and rebuilding efforts.

A documentary was shown at the event, with the filmmaker in attendance. The film “Strength of the Storm” tells the story of a trailer park in Berlin, Vt., which was destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene. The documentary goes on to tell how the community came together to recover from the disaster. Filmmaker Rob Koier attended the screening to answer questions from the audience.

Also attending the event was Laurie Parsons, board president of the Elmore SPCA in Peru, along with one of her dogs, Arizona.

Arizona is mostly German Shepherd, with a touch of Rhodesian Ridgeback, as evidenced by her slightly webbed paws.

Parsons said she was pleased the Elmore SPCA was invited to the event. When disasters strike, pets are affected too.

“Elmore is working to get groups together for projects like cruelty prevention, rescue and things of that nature,” she said.

And of course, they are always encouraging pet adoption, of which Arizona is an example.

The role of animals in rescue situations was highlighted by the Champlain Valley Search and Rescue K9 unit. Tricia Myatt, licensed veterinary technician and canine medic with the unit, talked about the group’s work.

“We do swift-water rescue in emergencies, like when someone is trapped with water rising,” she said. “During Hurricane Irene, a lot of people were stranded in their homes along the riverbank. We have boats and gear to get them to safety.”

Myatt also talked about how the Rescue K9 Unit’s trained animals help in such crises. One such animal is a German Shepherd named Inca, a water-recovery trained dog who searches for missing persons.

For a future rescue dog, training begins as a puppy. As a result, Inca loves the water and has no problem with climbing.

“The training is work-play; they get over potential fears and learn to love it.”

The dogs even participate in helicopter training.

“Inca has been lowered from a helicopter for rescues on the sides of cliffs. We would repel down with the dog, and she goes down in a harness just like we do.”