Berkshire Athenaeum Holds Climate Change Preparedness Forum

Sep 25, 2019

The Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts is holding a climate change preparedness forum Thursday evening.

The forum comes during Climate Preparedness week, which is sponsored by the Boston area nonprofit CREW – Communities Responding to Extreme Weather. Sam Reggio is the outreach librarian at the public library.

“It’s where communities get together and talk about what we can do to improve community resilience in the face of climate change, and some of the phenomena that is effecting communities all over the country but then specifically here in Pittsfield,” he explained to WAMC.

Reggio has assembled a panel of representatives from three local groups to answer community questions.

“I chose the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, the Housatonic Valley Association, and the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission," said the librarian. "All of those folks deal in one way or another with water and drainage and runoff, and Pittsfield is experiencing and continues to expect to see bigger, wetter storms hit the area.”

“We can expect to see storms that would typically be thought of as hundred year storms or 500 year storms happening on more of a 50 year basis," said Panel member Allison Egan. She's a senior public health planner for the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, specializing in public health disaster preparedness.

“I’m basically a professional doom’s day prepper," she laughed. "I plan for disease epidemics – so things like pandemic flu, or even down to things like an anthrax outbreak, but also for climate change, hazard mitigation, and anything basically under the sun.”

Her specialty is helping set public expectation for disaster, and how people can best manage themselves and their families.

“The biggest question I get from people in terms of climate change is ‘where are the shelters,’ and ‘do we have shelters in our community,’" she told WAMC. "And I always tell people – particularly people in Pittsfield – that the emergency management direction and the city administration has done a ton of work in planning for sheltering. Planning for cooling and warming centers, so people are safe, warm, or cool depending on what we’re seeing in the climate that day. And if there is a need for a shelter, there will be people there to assist you. You will get messaging. Sign up for reverse 911 through the city’s website – that’s the way you get the most up to date disaster information from your local responders and emergency management director.”

Egan’s BRPC colleague Caroline Massa will also be on hand to share data about climate change and how rising global temperatures translate into local threats.

“My background is with FEMA, so I’ve seen firsthand the impacts of major disasters in New York and Puerto Rico, so I can really bring home what the physical impacts of climate change can be," she said. "I’ve seen it firsthand.”

Massa is a Senior Planner focused on sustainability and the environment, and she says an increasingly warm, wetter world has grave implications.

“In the Berkshires, we’re particularly impacted by this," said Massa. "If you look at a map from Resilient Massachusetts, we can see that there are more intense precipitation events in Western Massachusetts than on the eastern side of the state.”

From her experience on the ground with FEMA, Massa knows exactly how violent those events can become.

“I really want to make people understand the physical impacts that an intense precipitation event can do," she told WAMC. "A small trickling stream can turn into a river that can blast through major bridges, and the impacts are very real and it always impacts when people are least expecting it – so it’s so important that everyone’s prepared.”

Egan and Massa are joining other local environmental and planning groups at the Berkshire Athenaeum’s climate change preparedness forum Thursday at 5:30.