Task Force Begins Building The Ark

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It sounds like a science fiction movie or a scene from the latest summer blockbuster.

Something has happened in Phoenix and the city must evacuate. Millions of people get in their cars and many of them head this way. What would we do?

As miles of cars and people with nowhere to go filed into town, would we be able to feed them? Would we be able to house them? Would we be able to keep chaos from happening up and down the Beeline Highway?

Right now, with the sun shining on the first days of summer and not so much as a wildfire on the horizon, those may seem like ridiculous questions.

But a group of community leaders don't see it that way.

In the past two months, the Comprehensive Disaster Readiness Task Force has formed to create a plan, for just such a crisis.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, countless small towns in Louisiana were overrun by the refugees. And though the federal government had contingency plans for such a thing through FEMA, the federal government didn't show up for days.

And anyone who was living in the Rim Country five years ago remembers the influx of people from the Show Low area during the Rodeo-Chediski Fire. Everyone will remember how the town moved into action without a plan in place. Food was provided. Shelter was offered. Pets were cared for.

The compassion of the Payson people can handle a refugee population from a town the size of Show Low, but can our instinct for kindness hold back a crashing wave of people from Phoenix?

That's the question on the table right now. The new task force is being led by Lew Levenson, who most people know as the driving force behind our local chapter of the American Red Cross. He is joined at the table by the likes of Chris Wolf, CEO of Payson Regional Medical Center, APS Regional Manager Jan Parsons, and soon-to-be Payson chief of police, Don Engler.

They are drawing up plans for our area, in case of a large-scale disaster. You may think they are building the ark without a cloud in the sky, but most of you know how that story turned out.

They are still in the beginning phases of this discussion. As Levenson said, "We are starting to phrase the questions." At this point, they are simply trying to raise awareness.

A large scale disaster may not follow the exact scenario the new task force is planning for, but once their work is done, the partnerships will be in place, along with the ability to create large evacuation shelters, direct traffic, get medical care to those who need it -- whatever unexpected crisis is on the horizon. How many small towns in Louisiana could have used such a plan on their shelves two years ago? And how grateful will we be if we are prepared, instead of overwhelmed, in the case of a terrorist attack on Phoenix, for example?

The group is currently constructing a Web site so residents can follow its progress. Once that site is up, we will publish the address in the Payson Roundup. The Comprehensive Disaster Readiness Task Force is looking for volunteers and input. For more information, call Levenson at (928) 472-7175.

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