Looking toward future emergencies, Bethel has been mapped into nine "Geo-areas" -- Clusters of houses and neighborhoods that naturally came together in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene. "Bethel go hit hard. We were devastated," said Bethel Fire Chief Dave Aldrighetti.
Like many communities across Vermont, Bethel residents were stranded for days, homes were destroyed and roads washed away. And as days passed after the storm without power and little communication, tempers grew. "We were having these meetings and people were frustrated and upset and what do we do -- and they were leaning toward the town government, but I didn't believe in that theory," Aldrighetti said.
The theory the volunteer fire chief did have was exactly what he saw in his own neighborhood. "My theory was the people needed to take care of the people," he said. And to help implement it -- Todd Sears -- who moved to Bethel just two years ago.
"We literally moved in 10 days before Tropical Storm Irene hit and so hey, welcome to Vermont," Sears said. Sears helped create Citizens Plus, or C+. It's a town wide group made up entirely of volunteers. In each of those designated nine areas, a "Geo Leader" has stepped up, whose first task will be to hand out packets containing information about what to know and have on hand during a disaster. Geo Leaders will act as team captains, reporting back to the Emergency Operation Center their neighborhood's needs -- and possibly much more. "Part of the vision of Citizens Plus is to train our folks and we have a training plan system that we put together so that they can walk into the E.O.C. -- step in and help," Sears said.
Sears says a clear chain of command will help recovery move forward more smoothly, allowing town government to tackle the bigger tasks. "Downed power lines, actual fire -- dealing with significant medical emergencies," he said. Things that residents in Bethel saw during Irene but may not think about until the next emergency.
"One thing that always amazes me is how quick people can forget," Dave Aldrighetti said.
Organizers of the Citizens Plus group say there will be kinks along the way and questions will need to be worked out, but that the model could be implemented in towns across the state to be better prepared when disaster strikes.
The packets will be handed out this week. They were put together through donations, with no additional cost to the taxpayer.
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