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Updated: October 2, 2023 Viewpoint

Viewpoint: We are Leominster strong

I’ve worked in crisis communications for more than 25 years, but on a Monday afternoon in mid-September, I learned so much more about the importance of strong leadership and working together.

Lauren Howe

The rain started in Leominster around 4 p.m., just at the beginning of the evening commute. Within two hours, Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella was on Facebook Live informing city residents we were in a state of emergency, the result of what experts are calling a once-in-500-year flood. Within what seemed like a matter of minutes, people were trapped in cars on Route 2, residents were rescued from their homes by boats with their pets in tow, and businesses and homes were flooded, some with up to seven feet of water. It was terrifying to feel my home shake because of the heavy rains and heartbreaking to know my hometown was drowning in devastation. Police, fire, ambulances, mutual aid, and many others were true heroes rescuing people in danger.

The following morning, reality hit us all. Roads were washed away, homes uninhabitable, the commuter rail bridge impacted. Photos and videos of Leominster on newscasts and social media reached as far away as California, Florida, and the Netherlands, resulting in family and friends checking in on us. As a small business owner in the city, I dusted off my crisis management plan and reached out to friends to offer my support.

The North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce immediately implemented a communications plan, complete with a dedicated email address and website for members to obtain up-to-date information. The nonprofit Ginny’s Helping Hand provided support at the emergency shelter for displaced residents and then began a robust outreach program to obtain food, clothing, and personal items. The Paper Store offered the opportunity for patrons to help the flood victims with support to Ginny’s. Fidelity Bank used its Frosty Flyer ice cream truck to deliver food.

I always knew Leominster was a community of kind and generous people, but what I didn’t know is how quickly they would use their collective strengths to get the city back up and running.

As a communications professional, I have experienced my fair share of crises, but none this close to home. It was horrifying yet humbling to be a victim of the flood crisis for which I was providing support to clients while juggling my own business, home, and family needs. What I learned is that when we use our shared expertise and knowledge, we can do great things.

While Leominster is quickly becoming whole again, I rest assured knowing when crisis strikes, Leominster’s leaders, first responders, businesses, and neighbors will be there, working in concert to ensure the safety of us all. We are better together when we are Leominster Strong.

Lauren Howe is principal and owner of empHowered PR, a public relations firm in Leominster.

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