Local responders know best

By BOB JOHNSON
Register City Editor

Register/Bob Johnson
Jason Nelson, above, director of Emergency Medical Services for Allen County, makes a point during an emergency response exercise. At left, Undersheriff Bryan Murphy would be among those at the top of the command structure if disaster struck Allen County.

It’s 3 o’clock on a Friday afternoon in May and severe weather is forecast for Allen County. Conditions are perfect for supercells to form.
Later in the afternoon, an intense storm bears down on Allen County. A tornado, at least an F3 and possibly an F4, falls from a wall cloud and tears cross the county. Minutes later about 25 percent of the county’s homes have been damaged, most to the point that they are no longer livable.
What to do?
That’s what Jackie Miller, representative of the Kansas Department of Emergency Management, asked emergency services responders here Thursday afternoon.
But, before she solicited specific answers, Miller told firefighters, law enforcement officers, ambulance personnel and others from Iola, Humboldt and Allen County to “keep it simple. Don’t make the exercise more difficult than it is. Don’t get stressed. Keep the discussion broad.”
Half an hour later Miller got predictable answers.
Representatives of each group said they would call on forces at hand and, probably very quickly, look to mutual aid agreements for assistance. They noted that determining scope of damage and search and rescue would be their first tasks.
Miller approved, but noted that a first step should be to contact Pam Beasley, Allen County Emergency Services director, to set up a chain of command that would keep response organized and provide access to aid from other counties and towns, as well as the state.
That was the purpose of the exercise in the basement assembly room of Allen County Courthouse, to remind emergency responders of the need to keep organized and follow established procedures, no matter how disorganized and critical circumstances surrounding an emergency might become.
Miller reinforced her point with a video, called “Hats,” that featured a Virginia state trooper who assumed identities of a variety of responders to a traffic accident, from tow truck driver to Department of Transportation representative to newsman, all of whom claimed to be in charge.
“In incident management,” the trooper said, “you need to follow the rules from the book, ‘All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.’ You need to share everything, play fair, say you’re sorry when you hurt someone and watch out for traffic, hold hands, be careful and stick together.”
Good advice, Miller said, noting that response to the devastation of a tornado, such as the one that ripped through Greensburg in 2007, a flood, which Allen Countians dealt with that same year, or anything else requires organization and cooperation.
She encouraged Allen Countians to shy from depending on the state or federal governments for assistance, particularly in the early stages of response.
“You need to be self-sufficient,” Miller said. “The state has more resources, but asking for them slows the process. Every disaster is local. No one is better equipped to make decisions for your jurisdiction than yourself.”