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Community Mapping: A Better Way to Make Disaster Plans

AARP Virgin Islands has joined with the Virgin Islands Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA), the Red Cross and several other government and civic organizations to begin a process that will help to uniquely identify each community’s or neighborhood’s needs and characteristics in the Virgin Islands.

See Also: Preparing for Natural Disasters

The new initiative focuses on both the physical and social characteristics of a particular geographic area to help disaster personnel access the area when a need arises. Additionally, by developing a strong relationship with leaders from each neighborhood, it is felt that disaster and recovery agencies will be able to keep their finger on the pulse of what is happening in each community in real time throughout the crisis.

The plan is for these community leaders to work with VITEMA to help individual community members understand how emergency agencies work during a crisis. The project will run on a year round basis with special programs being brought into community centers where the residents will have immediate access to information about emergency procedures, sheltering, and other emergency related issues of importance to them.

As the emergency personnel share information they will also have the opportunity to evaluate the unique needs or circumstances of each neighborhood. Those unique circumstances could include things like being located within a flood plain, having only one access road into an area, being prone to mud slides or even things like having a large concentration of elderly, disabled or young people who will be dependent on others for support during a crisis.

“AARP hopes to learn which areas are most vulnerable from a “people” perspective, states Denyce Singleton, AARP VI State Director, “We want to know in advance who might need special assistance moving from their residence to a shelter.”

By mapping out the island neighborhoods for their unique hazards, unique situations or populations, emergency personnel can make better educated decisions in preparation for an impending storm or better decisions about possible rescues after a disaster.

“Community mapping is a mutually beneficial activity that will help emergency workers better estimate where and how to utilize precious resources before, during and after a disaster,” continued Singleton, “We also hope the project will help to foster closer community involvement with one another by getting people to think about disasters in a community perspective rather than a single family situation.”

Another example of an issue being considered by the community mapping group is what safety measures to take in handling animals during a crisis. Whether the animal be the family dog, or cat or a herd of goats, sheep or horses, it’s important that each community’s situation be examined. By getting together to share information about the unique challenges experienced in your neighborhood, emergency services personnel can complete a needs assessment where issues can be considered and resolved before there is an actual emergency situation.
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