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County commission workshop focuses on disaster

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By Alice Du Pont

What would Gadsden County residents do if a hurricane made its way here during the 2013 hurricane season?

To answer that question and others, the County’s Division of Emergency Management, led by Emergency Management Director Shawn Wood, hosted a workshop April 2 to discuss and describe how the county would respond.

“We didn’t want to just walk up and give them a presentation and say everything is OK. We went into as much detail as possible,” Wood said, “including naming the individuals and departments responsible and describing their duties.”

“It was a great presentation. If I had any questions before, I didn’t have any when they finished. It was a very thorough workshop and it really taught me a lot,” said County Commissioner Eric Hinson.

“Curtis King was killed in the line of duty during a tropical storm. I think it is important to pay respect to the members of our responders who made the ultimate sacrifice. I just want to thank him again and make sure that we don’t forget about his sacrifice,” said Wood, beginning the presentation.

Wood said Emergency Management Office and staff must plan for action and reacting to emergencies, do their best to mitigate the problems and respond to a disaster when it arises. Following the disaster, the staff kicks into recovery mode.

Recovery includes everything from identifying and categorizing the damage, cleanup and, in some cases, finding housing for citizens who have been displaced. All of this, he said, must be funded.

“In our case, the funding comes in at $105,806 from the state, $49,758 in federal funds in which the Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office has a 25 percent match that, for the past three years had been around $16,000. Part of that money pays for my salary,” Wood said.

The county is regulated by the state to ensure the requirements of the grant are met. Each year, the county EM is required to submit for approval a scope of work that clearly outlines what the county will do in case of a disaster.
This year the EM Office was required to show what would happen and where the office would move to in case of a disaster and the main command or communications station (currently in the basement level of the GCSO) was unable to continue operating.

“The Quincy Fire Department is currently being set up as a secondary 911 Call Center. They already have the generators, and it a simple matter of just moving everything right down the street; this was paid for through grant money in partnership with the city of Quincy. Gadsden County, as a last resort, also has the ability to set up a communications center. When dispatch moved down to GCSO, we left all of the connections in place (so) that is our third backup,” Wood said.

In addition, there is also a mobile command unit that will be coming on line for service in the near future thanks to grant money. Woods said the plan is on paper and in computers so the effort is one that can handle any disaster problems that may arise in the county with minimal disruption.

“The aim is for the services to be delivered by a team of people who all know what to do. I hate to say it this way, but our thinking is that we can’t afford to have one monkey running the show in case of a disaster,” Wood said.

Wood said the team he has assembled has reviewed every aspect of “what if”.

“I have not called on anyone who has not responded in a cooperative and positive way. The school board’s transportation people are on board for our special needs citizens if they need transportation to our shelters,” he said.
They special needs registry is updated frequently. In late April, volunteers will converge on the call center and make contact with everyone who has special needs and is on the registry.

“If we don’t get a response when we call, we will send out Citizens on Patrol volunteers out to actually knock on doors. We are touching base weekly with home health care agencies and our plan is to do a mass updating in April in advance of hurricane season.” said TaShonda Whaley, administrative coordinator in the EM Office.

Whaley and GCHD Director of Nursing Sarah Hinson informed commissioners that there is an emergency call out set up at least four to five days prior to a hurricane or rain event predicted to cause damage in the county.

Part of the hospital has been retrofitted for sheltering bedridden patients from nursing homes to keep them in the county and avoid problems like those that occurred at several nursing homes in Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina.
Wood told commissioners that they will be assigned a telephone number in the command center where they can answer calls from their constituents and not clog lines that people in the field need to report to the command center.

Commissioners, he said, can help by informing their constituents to report names and address to the special needs registry early and provide names, addresses and medical ailments.

Others presenters included Aaron Kissler, director at the GCHD, who discussed how his department is preparing for disaster and Chris Rietow, from the Apalachee Regional Planning Council, outlined how the county’s hazard analysis is conducted. This analysis is critical to the county in accessing funds to be used for recovery.

In closing the workshop Wood urged commissioners to help EM inform the citizens.

“We have a comprehensive booklet online, which they can download and keep in the top drawer. If contains just about everything,” he said.