Like his father before him, Jeff Kelly prepares for the worst as the emergency managemenet coordinator for South Whitehall.
His father was in charge of emergency management efforts in the township when the terrorists attacked the country on Sept. 11, 2001. And while Kelly believes the township was well prepared then to respond to the ensuing concerns, he said that local emergency responders today are better trained, communications are improved and equipment enhanced.
"They're ready to respond to any type of emergency," Kelly said, referring to the township firefighters, police and others who receive formalized, on-going training. "And they have the equipment...to respond."
And while one can't forsee the future, Kelly believes that the community is safer than a decade ago when terrorists struck. "More people are aware of their surroundings now," he said, and are reporting suspicious behaviors.
Kelly, a ham radio operator, spent four days in New York, right after the terrorist attacks, to coordinate Red Cross efforts by ham radio. His sons joined him in relief efforts.
Several years ago, he helped spearhead an annual Emergency Preparedness Day, which is sponsored by South Whitehall, Upper Macungie and North Whitehall townships.
The 2011 Community Emergency Preparedness Day is set for Saturday, Sept. 17, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the site of the former Pennsylvania EXPO Center, 501 Cetronia Road, South Whitehall. The program, which is open to the public, aims to help families better prepare for emergencies, beyond having fire alarms, smoke detectors and dead-bolt locks.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, Kelly said, more federal funding became available for public safety initiatives. Through the Northeast Pennsylvania Regional Counter Terrorism Task Force, the township obtained equipment to help with communications and responses in emergencies, including a laptop, portable two-way radios, a printe/fax, GPS receivers and binoculars. The township received $10,000 to $15,000 worth of equipment, he said.
Those tools came in use in late August, when South Whitehall officials, with Kelly at the helm, set up a round-the-clock Emergency Operations Center to deal with the havoc caused by Hurricane Irene. The team included fire, police, Cetronia ambulance, community development officials, street and sewer personnel, among others.
The township's emergency management also in recent weeks has updated its Emergency Operating Plan, which is some 490 pages. Kelly said the plan covers all aspects of emergencies for township locations, including the schools, day care centers, nursing home and retirement communities, Westfield Hospital and companies.