Goshen News, Goshen, IN

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April 28, 2013

Local emergency agencies make a point to communicate and collaborate

GOSHEN —  There are probably few places with less in common than Boston and West, Texas.

But with federally-mandated All Hazards Planning through Federal Emergency Management Agency, the response effort for both the marathon bombings and a massive fertilizer plant explosion worked off the same template.

Locally, emergency management directors in Elkhart, Kosciusko, Noble and LaGrange counties have a plan for all manner of natural or man-made disasters.

“Whether it affects one home, 10 homes, a community, we will execute our plan,” said Jennifer Tobey, Emergency Management Director for Elkhart County.

Ultimately, Tobey said, the preparedness of a community lies with the citizen.

“The motto I live by, that’s in my office is ‘Don’t be a part of the problem. Be a part of the solution,’” Tobey said.

She said it’s important for people to have “go kits” that can sustain them for at least 72 hours.

“It’s not just about clothes or food,” she said. “It’s medication. It’s supplies for your pets. Everything you’re going to need for that time.”

In Noble County, Emergency Management Director Mick Newtown routinely hands out literature titled “Plan to survive until help arrives.”

Ongoing training

For emergency management directors, being streamlined is key.

“It’s about making sure there is no duplication of efforts,” said Ed Rock, Emergency Management Director for Kosciusko County.

Rock spent his Wednesday with Marshall County Emergency Management Director Clyde Avery in Plymouth teaching a standardized management system to employees of the two counties’ health departments.

While there is federal standardization, it’s not a one-size fits all approach to disaster preparedness.

Rock and his staff are trained on how to handle terrorist situations. But that’s not where their main focus lies. It’s in dealing with the potential for flooding or tornadoes or massive snow storms.

Helping each other

Newtown knows cooperation with other counties is vital. In March 2012, when a train traveling east near Ligonier was derailed, Newton reached out to Elkhart County.

His district’s mobile command center was down at the time.

“I called to Elkhart County and Jen Tobey,” Newton said. “They quickly brought their command center.”

When Newton needed a helicopter to assess how far reaching the damage was, he called The Goshen Municipal Airport.

“We couldn’t get a state helicopter,” Newton explained, “so we called over to the Goshen airport and they came out so quick with a helicopter. Out in the more rural counties, we depend a lot on each other.”

The cards they’re dealt

Noble County Emergency Management Director Stewart Bender said if disaster strikes plans are in place to let people know. Whether it’s through Nixle, a web-based messaging system, or radio and TV, there are ways to communicate with the public. Though every communication avenue isn’t available.

“We don’t have reverse 911,” said Bender.

That program is used to call residents in case of emergency.

There are other areas in which Bender would like funding.

“But funding is always a battle,” said Bender.

So emergency management directors work with what they have. This week, Newtown was out assessing damaged by flooding.

The homes, in the West Lakes area of the county, are below the Rome City Dam. Newtown said he was going to have to bring a boat in for one section of homes.

In Noble County, manpower is an issue.

“We have all-volunteer fire departments here,” Newton said. “When I hear calls go out for help, it’s rarely for lack of equipment. It’s shortage of manpower. It may take a while (in an emergency) for someone to get to you.”

Free Community Emergency Response Team training is done through local emergency management offices. The training prepares people for disasters through simulations, workshops and classes.

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