Kevin Belanger and Randy Hill of the N.H. Department of Transportation discuss their plan for cleaning up road debris and clearing a one-lane road for traffic on Route 123A in Alstead last month after flooding.

As the recent flooding in the region proves, severe weather events and emergencies often take us by surprise — so how can you prepare?

Thanks to a multi-year partnership between area organizations that focuses on the intersection between public health and climate events, you can learn specific strategies to keep yourself and your family safe.

During a recent interactive webinar on Zoom — “How to Prepare for Severe Weather Events and Other Emergencies” — participants discussed key topics such as how to make a kit of essential items based on their family’s needs, make plans for communicating with family members during an emergency and the differences between terms such as “flood warning” and “flood watch.” They also learned about early-warning systems designed to give them as much notice as possible.

The webinar came at the tail end of a multi-year project that began with the Climate and Health Adaptation Plan (CHAP) in 2017 and led to an initiative known as Building Resilience Against Climate Effects (BRACE) starting in 2018. Both projects receive funding from the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services.

Since launching CHAP, the Greater Monadnock Public Health Network has partnered with the Southwest Region Planning Commission and Antioch University New England’s Center for Climate Preparedness and Community Resilience on the BRACE project.

BRACE is a continuation of the work done through CHAP, with the primary goal of identifying those most vulnerable during severe weather events in southwestern New Hampshire. This involves additional research on climate hazards and resulting health issues to best prepare people for the challenges that may arise before, during and after.

A population is considered vulnerable when the existing risk factors of a group could lead them to being particularly harmed during climate-related emergencies. For example, CHAP identified, young children and older adults are more vulnerable to heat waves due to a higher sensitivity to heat stress. Other vulnerable groups during climate-related emergencies can include those with mobility restrictions and people of low income.

Jane Parayil, the public health emergency preparedness coordinator for Cheshire Medical Center and GMPHN and one of the facilitators of the recent webinar, hopes the work done by the public health network and its project partners will encourage people to think more about what they’d do in severe weather events and other emergencies.

“It’s very easy to think in that mindset, ‘That’s not going to happen to me. I don’t need to worry about it,’ ”Parayil said, “and that’s one thing that we all struggle with about having an emergency preparedness kit and a plan because when that time does happen, you don’t want to be in that situation where you’re not prepared.”

Henry Underwood, GIS specialist/planner with SWRPC, described the role the planning commission had with both projects.

“Depending on the phase of the project, we were doing things like facilitating in-person meetings with stakeholder groups to learn about perceptions about whether flooding changes with weather patterns and then we’ve had some talk about interventions that are really education and outreach opportunities,” Underwood said. “And the role we’ve played from there is to design the kind of means to get out and actually collect some data about our work.”

This data included pre- and post-workshop survey responses that addressed attendees’ confidence about their mental readiness for a climate-related emergency as well as the stage they were at with forming an emergency preparedness kit and plan for their family.

Beyond supplies

While one can prepare a full emergency kit, whether bought online with the essentials or more carefully curated to your budget and needs, more goes into preparedness than just supplies. The BRACE project shifts the light onto how we think about emergencies, and how we react to them.

In addition to building upon the work with CHAP, BRACE focuses on the impact severe weather events have upon a population. The project’s initial stage addressed community and organizational-level preparedness through workshops. Now, in the final stage, the goal is that those in the region will use the strategies they learned to be self-reliant during weather-related emergencies.

Janine Marr, a Ph.D. candidate in environmental studies at Antioch in Keene and one of the collaborators involved with BRACE, emphasized the importance of building resilience to severe weather events.

“It boils down to a couple of keywords, and one is making yourself so that you are not vulnerable to the effects of the disaster or the aftereffects of the disaster,” Marr told The Sentinel. “You’re able to withstand what comes at you, whether it’s psychological stressors like, ‘I just lost my entire house, now what?’ or the physical: ‘I’m sick because I’m breathing in all the mold because my basement has been flooded.’ You’re able to withstand, you’re able to adapt, and you’re able to overcome and bounce back.”

For more information on the CHAPS and/or BRACE projects, contact Underwood at 357-0557 or hunderwood@swrpc.org.

Colette Rinker can be reached at crinker@keenesentinel.com.