Column: City prepared for emergencies

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Commentary by Jim Brainard

I want to thank our dedicated employees of the police, fire, utilities, street and other departments for their heroic and dedicated work after last week’s terrible and destructive storms rolled through Carmel. Across the city, hundreds of trees were uprooted and branches broken causing widespread power outages.

This served as a reminder for cities and towns to be prepared to adequately respond to disasters and have systems in place to continue to provide residents and businesses with basic services. While many of our residents found out just how quickly they could lose access to electricity, which powers so much of our daily lives, they may not realize how diligently the city plans to make sure that even if power is cut off the city is still able to provide services to residents such as waste water processing and water service. We have propane-powered generators to pump water into our water towers, which then allows gravity to keep pressure in the water lines.

This is critical not just to provide water service to homes but to keep pressure available to fight fires.  At one point during during the recent storm our firefighters were battling six different fires.

Temporary generators work short term, but what if we lost access to power for a longer period of time? Consider how much we rely on power to operate the lift stations that pump our water, power the operations at our sanitary facilities, pump our fuel, cool our homes and operate sophisticated medical equipment for our sick and elderly.

For the past year, the City of Carmel has been working with Telamon Corporation to develop a system of solar panels at various locations around the city near its facilities. During this time, the battery storage in this solar system has been improved to the point that we can store enough energy to power critical utility systems in the event of a disaster that takes out power for an extended period of time.

The project is costing $3.2 million for the first four locations, but when you consider the total amount of damage that could occur to our systems under an extended power outage, this is a minimal amount of debt to ensure our safety and well-being. In the event of a sustained shortage of fuel – due to storm damage or other factors – our first responders will have options to use stored energy to continue to serve residents in need.  The city should receive a return not only in terms of better resiliency  in the event of a disaster but reduced electric bills daily.  The utility currently spends hundreds of thousands of dollars per year on electricity to power the water and sanitary utilities.

It is all about planning, training and preparation. Two days after the storm hit, we learned that in some parts of Carmel, residential neighborhoods were still without power. The decision was made to activate our Emergency Operations Center, open an emergency cooling center at the high school and send our emergency responders into our neighborhoods to knock on doors and check on the welfare of our most vulnerable residents.

Our police and fire departments are the best at what they do because they have been trained well and provided with the best equipment. When lightning struck a five-story building under construction along the Monon Greenway, our emergency responders quickly learned that the sprinkler system was not yet turned on and they took quick action to fight the fire from within while surrounding the building with ladder trucks – including some from neighboring departments who had been called in to assist. Their actions kept the fire from potentially spreading.

These kinds of responses don’t simply emerge from a textbook. The City of Carmel invests in our emergency responders so that they can be trained at the highest level possible. This is why it is so important that we have the best fire training facilities, not just for our department, but for other departments in Hamilton County who are often called to offer assistance.

Jim Brainard is mayor of Carmel. 

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