Collaborative Effort Yields New Approach to Disaster Planning

SPRINGFIELD — Last winter, Live Well Springfield brought the community to a disaster-preparedness exercise that traditionally only engaged city and healthcare representatives, with the idea that involving community leaders and organizations offers invaluable perspectives.

The extreme-heat tabletop exercise was funded by Health Care Without Harm. Pioneer Valley Planning Commission coordinated the project with the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts, Live Well Springfield, and Baystate Health. The learnings from this exercise were incorporated into a guide, “Partnering for Climate Resilience: A Practical Guide to Community Based Disaster Planning for Healthcare.”

With climate change, extreme heat, and other extreme-weather events on the rise, this guide provides a playbook and sample materials for healthcare institutions to partner with emergency planners, public-health professionals, and community-based organizations to run a disaster-scenario exercise to identify and address vulnerabilities and enable communities to better withstand climate impacts.

In addition to the guide, the tabletop exercise informed two amendments to the recently passed climate bill. These amendments were introduced by state Sens. Adam Gomez and Adam Hinds. They include provisions for energy storage such as battery backups to be paired with community cooling centers in environmental-justice communities, which could prevent those facilities from having to run diesel generators that would add to health impacts in event of a blackout; and expanded eligibility for a Mass Clean Energy Center equity program to also include community-based organizations working on climate resilience and extreme-heat issues.