The New England Consortium Partners with Lowell Community Health Center to Provide Training

Sun Image by Pexels
Heat waves are just one of the extreme weather events TNEC discussed during disaster preparedness training.

By Brooke Coupal

Imagine that a heat wave is set to sweep over the Merrimack Valley. With prolonged scorching temperatures on the horizon, homes are at risk of losing power, and residents are in danger of heat-related illnesses.

To help the local community prepare for severe weather events like this (which, according to recent studies, are becoming more frequent and intense due to climate change), the New England Consortium (TNEC) at UMass Lowell has partnered for the first time with the Lowell Community Health Center to provide disaster preparedness training sessions to the public.

“We’re teaching the community how to be more resilient in the event of a natural disaster,” says David Turcotte ’79, ’07, principal investigator of TNEC and an economics research professor.

Stacey Thompson, the health center’s director of workplace learning and development, says the training sessions present people with critical information that they can then share with family, friends, colleagues and other community members.

“Collaborating with TNEC to empower the community to play an active role in its development and growth is integral to the mission of the Lowell Community Health Center,” she says.

TNEC training 1 Image by Milagros Barreto
From left, TNEC trainers Frederick Malaby and Mike Fitts work with "train the trainer" session participants.
Funded by a $300,000 National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences grant, the first training sessions took place in November 2022. Roughly 60 people participated, including representatives from the Lowell Community Health Center, Acre Family Child Care, Coalition For A Better Acre and the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center.

“They learned how a disaster could impact them and their local communities, as well as the types of steps that should be taken to plan for these potential disasters,” Turcotte says.

TNEC trainers reviewed checklists that families and organizations should go over before a major weather event, as well as tips on how to safely clean up after one happens. The participants also took part in a “Go Bag” activity, where they learned the essential items to keep in a bag, such as a flashlight and first aid kit, in case they get stranded somewhere due to severe weather.

TNEC also held “train the trainer” sessions at the health center, where previous participants could learn how to teach their community groups about disaster preparedness.

TNEC training 2 Image by Milagros Barreto
A member of the community, right, demonstrates how to decontaminate gloves before proper removal with TNEC trainer Patricia Strizak, left.
“One of the huge advantages of teaching the public to be peer trainers is that they already know the needs and concerns of their organizations, so they’re able to really tailor the training to their group,” says TNEC Training Manager David Coffey ’11, who developed the training curriculum.

Turcotte adds that this is an efficient way to spread knowledge to all members of the community so they can stay safe in weather-related emergencies.

“Training diverse and bilingual community educators will better prepare the most vulnerable and hardest-hit populations to react against the rising threats of extreme weather,” Turcotte says.

In addition to disaster preparedness training sessions, TNEC held classes on infectious disease awareness at the health center.

“We could never have the same impact if we tried to run these trainings independent of having a community partner like the Lowell Community Health Center,” Turcotte says. “They help connect us with the community.”