Region Displays Resolve, Resourcefulness
Since June 1, we have experienced the devastation of a natural disaster unprecedented in our region. But as stunned as we all were by the damage to residences and businesses alike, we take comfort in the responses to this tragedy at every level.
Whether it is businesses in West Springfield, the South End of Springfield, Watershops Pond, or Six Corners; or residents in East Forest Park, Wilbraham, Westfield, West Springfield, or Monson, the community of Western Mass. rallied behind those affected. The spirit and resilience of the people in our region are what make it special, and examples of those attributes are all around us.
The initial government response and follow-up has been and continues to be remarkable. At the local level, disaster-response teams kicked into action immediately, assessing damage and seeing to the public safety. Who will forget the images of Springfield Mayor Sarno accompanied by Gov. Patrick and Sen. Kerry surveying the damage in the South End of Springfield immediately following the tornado, while Congressman Neal contacted the White House to invoke federal assistance?
Mayors Gibson in West Springfield and Knapik in Westfield, as well as the selectmen in Wilbraham, Monson, and East Longmeadow, all had challenges of their own that they handled with equal responsiveness and leadership.
The community response led by the Pioneer Valley Red Cross and supported by hundreds of individuals and businesses throughout the region has been equally impressive, and further evidence of the extraordinary spirit of our people.
The Economic Development Council and the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield have been working partners in the cooperative efforts since the tornado struck, staying abreast of details through daily conference calls with local, state, and federal entities; touring the destruction to assess its impact; and reaching out to members both affected and not, in an attempt to match needs with resources.
The challenges presented by this disaster are being met with hope and resolve, but no one expects the solutions to necessarily be swift. Instead, the rebuilding phase will break down into the short, medium and long terms. In the short term, residents and business owners are assessing the damage and working with their private insurers to understand their options. But more help will be on the way soon.
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has programs to assist residents and businesses and not-for-profit organizations alike in the medium-term rebuilding effort. Through the use of long-term, low-interest disaster loans, the SBA can provide funding to replace damaged real estate and/or personal property, and provide needed operating capital to compensate for business interruption and economic injury. Soon, the SBA will be providing specific details on how individuals and businesses can avail themselves of these services and resources (see related story on page 9). The combination of home loans, business loans, and economic-injury disaster loans, together with private insurance, should give those most affected many of the resources needed to rebuild.
The state has set up two resource centers in our region to help all people affected by the tornado. They are in the following locations:
• Springfield: Department of Transitional Assistance Office
95 Liberty St., Springfield
• Palmer: Department of Developmental Service Central/West Regional Office
171 State Ave., Palmer
(413) 283-3411 or (800) 323-3123
The city of Springfield has established a special page on its Web site to assist as well: www.springfieldcityhall.com
Rebuilding the physical damage in many cases will be the easy part. For those who lost everything they own, or whose school was damaged, forcing them to attend another, and for all the others whose lives were turned upside down by this disaster, the path to normalcy may be more difficult and take longer. There is help for them, too. United Way of Pioneer Valley has a special phone line for assistance, 211. And beyond the organized help will be the many acts of kindness shared neighbor-to-neighbor and community-to-community.
The resilience of our region is found in the strength and resourcefulness of our people. The long-term rebuilding of our communities will require all hands on deck in a thoughtful and hopeful process. The EDC and the ACCGS, together with our members, will be active participants.
Allan Blair is president and CEO of the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts; Jeffrey Ciuffreda is president of the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield.