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In An Emergency, Preparedness Depends On The Public

Courtesy of Sheri Fink
Washington and Jefferson College
Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Dr. Sheri Fink, author of Five Days at Memorial, will speak at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. The event is free and open to the public, and will be followed by a book sale and signing.

On today's program: Author Sheri Fink tells Pittsburgh what it means to be prepared; a look at one free, community-based fitness program changing lives; the people and plans behind the URA’s latest deadline for the Civic Arena site; and how Friday’s 3rd Circuit Court ruling will affect protests outside abortion providers in Pittsburgh.

What can happen when the institutions we trust aren't prepared for the worst
(00:00 — 13:29) 

Author and NY Times correspondent Sheri Fink is probably best known for her 2013 book Five Days at Memorial, a longer adaptation of her Pulitzer Prize-winning piece from 2009 chronicling the ethical dilemmas faced by staff at Memorial Hospital during and immediately after Hurricane Katrina.

But that was just the beginning of Fink's emergency preparedness reporting. From hurricanes to mass shootings to the migrant crisis, Fink says there’s still a lot of debate among medical professionals about how to handle both natural and man-made disasters, and what society collectively can do to be more prepared.

Often it’s a question of how communities prioritize who gets access to potentially life-saving resources, she says, especially when it feels like there’s not enough to go around.

“And often what we see is that the same groups that are the most vulnerable on a day-to-day basis or most disadvantaged, that that just gets magnified when it comes to these more stressful emergency situations,” Fink says. “So a lot of what I write about has to do with some of those questions and also the question of how can we prepare better as individuals, as businesses, as government, to really make sure that when it comes to a crisis, in fact we don’t have these tragic deaths and we don’t have a sense coming out of it that there were major injustices.” 

Fink advises learning basic medical care, thinking in advance about the most likely potential emergencies and considering who in an area might need special attention, especially people who are older or infirm. 

“It’s really incumbent on all of us to remember that emergency response isn’t just about your first responders -- your police, your fire, your ambulance crews -- because when a disaster strikes, there’s just not enough of them to get there right away, and they really need us in the general public to sort of do things that will help the outcomes,” she says. “In the immediate response … the first few minutes of a crisis, it is the preparedness of the public that really counts.”

Fink is speaking at 7 p.m. Monday at the Dieter-Porter Life Sciences Building at Washington and Jefferson College. The event is free and open to the public.

A local fitness trainer is bringing the gym to the community
(14:10 — 17:42)

People who need fitness training and the most help developing healthy habits are often the ones least likely to seek out assistance. Trainer James Rounds started a nonprofit in 2013 called One-On-One Fitness and Training to help those too overwhelmed to prioritize their health and fitness. 

Rounds spoke with 90.5 WESA’s Elaine Effort about how he’s giving members of his community the tools to achieve their goals free of charge. 

URA vote sets the stage for Lower Hill development in 2020
(17:46 — 26:28) 

The fate of the old Civic Arena site has been in limbo for years, since well before demolition was completed in March 2012. But at long last, the developer presented a plan Friday that passed muster with the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority. 

90.5 WESA development reporter Margaret J. Krauss reports there are a lot of players still to sign off on the deal, including the URA itself, Penguins leadership, the city, county, school board, developers, the Sports and Exhibition Authority and various stakeholders representing the Hill District.

URA board chairman Sam Williamson said Friday his priority is to “heal some of the historic mistakes.”

City law limiting anti-abortion activists has been tweaked, but upheld
(26:31 — 39:00)

90.5 WESA’s Chris Potter reports people on both sides of the abortion debate are celebrating after a federal appeals court Friday upheld a Pittsburgh ordinance to maintain a 15-foot “buffer zone” outside abortion providers.

The three-judge panel allowed that the rule is constitutional – at least to the extent that it bars full-blown anti-abortion protests – but the court’s opinion said the zone did not apply to “sidewalk counseling,” the practice of approaching women on their way into the clinic and urging them not to terminate a pregnancy. 

Judge Thomas Hardiman, who was a top contender for a post on the U.S. Supreme Court last year, said that earlier court decisions would “constrain” future efforts to enforce the ordinance. He wrote that in future, the city could only address outward factors like “decibel level, the distance between persons [and] the flow of traffic.” And while sidewalk counselors report emphasizing a sympathetic approach, Hardiman said, Pittsburgh cannot target quiet conversations even if they are not in a tone of ‘kindness, love, hope, gentleness, and help.’”

Plans for a future appeal from either party have not yet been disclosed. 

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kiley Koscinski is a general assignment reporter for 90.5 WESA. She previously produced The Confluence and Morning Edition. Before coming to WESA, she worked as an assignment desk editor and producer at 1020 AM KDKA. She can be reached at
Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago.
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