Seminar helps officials hone emergency response plans

Photo by Alan Warren, Messenger-Inquirer | awarren@messenger-inquirer.com Vicky Connor, planner for Daviess County Emergency Management Agency, left, Lora Wimsatt, DCPS public information spokesperson, and Brian Tooley, of CenterPoint Energy in Evansville, work on an emergency planning exercise on Wednesday at Owensboro Public Schools central office.

The participants at Wednesday's emergency planning seminar at Owensboro Public Schools' administrative offices represented agencies that already have extensive disaster planning experience.

The Owensboro and Daviess County school districts, for example, have plans for managing any number of emergencies, while the representatives from the Daviess, Hopkins, Crittenden, Hancock and Kentucky emergency management agencies in attendance work on disaster preparation continuously.

But officials at the training, which taught them how to use the federal Threat and Hazard Identification Risk Assessment system, said the training was important, because no disaster plan is ever perfect.

"Every community has gaps they can improve on," said Patrick Hardesty, Region II manager for Kentucky Emergency Management.

The training was provided by the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service.

Vincent Rose, one of the facilitators for the training, said the goal of the training is to teach planners how to use a federal system to categorize the most-likely hazards in their communities, and to review disaster response plans for gaps.

"We are teaching them national processes of determining specific threats and hazards," Rose said. "Each community has its own particular threats, such as being in an earthquake zone, or having industries that generate hazardous waste, or being prone to flooding or tornadoes."

By assessing local threats, officials "can determine the level of response required," he said.

But threats can sometimes be man-made, such as in the case of mass shootings. The federal system helps agencies look over their response plans for natural and human-made emergencies, and find ways to better respond and recover.

"We are teaching them the process," Rose said. "We are teaching them how to fish."

Agencies that receives federal preparedness dollars are required to do an annual review according to federal guidelines, and local agencies that use the system to evaluate their plans will be eligible for some of those federal preparedness grants. Part of the program also focused on grant opportunities, Rose said.

The training supports the goal of the National Preparedness System's goal of having communities prepared to act in case of natural or man-made disasters.

"To summarize, we must be prepared as a nation for any threat that may occur," Rose said.

Hardesty said learning the federal system of evaluating local threats and response plans was valuable.

"What this program does is (help officials) recognize gaps in the community, as far as incident response and recovery, for a large-scale incident," Hardesty said.

Andy Ball, director of Daviess County Emergency Management, said the federal process will be easy to use once the initial assessment is complete.

"Once (agencies) get this done, I think it will be easier to maintain annually," Ball said.

Lora Wimsatt, public information officer for Daviess County Public Schools, said the training was useful not only for building relationships with area emergency planners but also allowed them to discuss the resources they possess to respond to an emergency, and their respective roles in a disaster.

"Schools do have a role in responding to community disasters, because we have close relationships with children and families," Wimsatt said. "In a disaster, like the 2009 ice storm, a goal of the school district would be to resume classes as quickly as possible, because schools provide food and a sense of normalcy to children shocked by the disaster, and can direct families in need to resources through family and youth resource centers."

James Mayse, 270-691-7303, jmayse@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse

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