WEST PITTSTON — In a town yet to fully return to its feet after back-to-back storms devastated homes and businesses in 2011, one community group is determined to make sure everyone is better prepared if another disaster strikes.
By formalizing a block captain program, West Pittston Tomorrow — a nonprofit set up last year to improve the community — hopes to find community-minded volunteers and give them basic emergency training should another hurricane or tropical storm sweep through again.
In 2011, tropical storms Irene and Lee hit within two weeks of each other in August and September. The rains from the remnants of Lee caused the Susquehanna River to rise to 42.66 feet, flooding areas unprotected by the Wyoming Valley levee system, including a large portion of West Pittston.
Block captains would act as liaisons from borough officials to the community and would be responsible for certain zones, a single street or a block or two, depending on how many sign up, said Judy Aita, a group committee chairwomen.
Each block captain will be the first on a phone chain when the borough needs to reach everyone, Aita said, and added that block captains must be aware of their zone’s specific needs.
“There will also be a buddy system for giving handicapped neighbors extra help,” Aita said. ” The block captain wouldn’t be responsible (to provide the help), but let emergency responders (know about the need).”
There is no qualifying criteria for block captains, they just have to be willing, Aita said.
Recruitment is now underway, Aita said, and the group needs captains not only for flood-zone areas, but also those out of dangerous neighborhoods.
“People who live outside the flood zones are the ones who will be most important while the flood-zone residents are scrambling to secure the important things,” Aita said.
Captains will have no law-enforcement power and should not consider themselves vigilantes, Aita said.
The program is not just for floods, though another flood threatens the quiet riverside town more than a crime wave or an epidemic. West Pittston Tomorrow hopes to see communities strengthened and new friendships formed as block captains reach out to their neighbors. Still, captains are to be trained to facilitate in case of most borough-wide emergencies.