County emergency plan changes tabled

MARSHALL COUNTY — An updated emergency plan for Marshall County was submitted to the Commissioners Monday morning. The commissioners did not approve the changes to the plan.
“I am here today to talk to you about adopting a new county comprehensive emergency management plan. This is based on recommendations from the EMA advisory council as a result of an after action report and improvement plan from the blizzard and snow events that occurred this past winter,” said Clyde Avery, Marshall County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) director.
Avery summarized the changes: “One of the significant changes that came out of the after-action report was that some of the department heads felt it wasn’t necessary to physically come to the Emergency Operations Center when it was activated.”
The department heads felt they could do the same job by connecting virtually, according to Avery. The previous plan required those individuals to report to the EOC once a disaster declaration was implemented and the plan was put into effect. The new plan would allow the department heads to connect by virtual means.
“That can be problematic as I explained to commissioner (Deb) Griewank during the tornado and severe storms we had a couple weeks ago,” said Avery.
The county building suffered a power outage. In addition the internet services were down. That prevented communication through online services.
The other important factor that was changed in the emergency plan was to put the responsibility of implementing the emergency plan back on the commissioners instead of the EMA director. Avery and the advisory council discussed the matter previously and decided the ultimate responsibility of implementing the plan should be with the commissioners.
Commissioner Griewank expressed concerns that if department heads didn’t follow the plan as it was before would they follow it after it was changed? Commissioner Roose and Avery discussed the difficulty Avery had during the storm being the only person in the office to answer phone calls and responded to the situation.
“It would be best if we could just get the department heads or representatives from those departments to send a person in to help make that a really cohesive center, a place where things are going to get done,” said Roose.
The plan is 129 pages long. It spells out each department’s or agency’s roles and responsibilities in the event of an emergency.
The first section explains in a simple way what kind of action county personnel will take, according to Avery. The rest of the plan is information in checklist format for mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. The specific tasks that must be completed to implement the plan.
“It is only going to be as effective as the amount of support that we get to actually implement it the way that it needs to be done,” said Avery.
The county has seen several events this year that may have seemed mild but had the potential to be worse. Those events included gas leaks, hazardous materials incident, tornado and disease outbreak. The plan covers all types of incidents that the county might across.
After some discussion involving the importance of the 3C’s - coordination, cooperation and communication - between the departments the commissioners were skeptic about the new plan being better.
“To approve this, we have to have some thing, and I know the other one didn’t work because you didn’t get the people in there to help out. But this one is saying that there definitely won’t be people in there to help out in the EOC,” said Griewank.
Avery clarified that the department heads would have the option to either come to the EOC or connect virtually with the new plan.
“Unfortunately the reality of it is until we take the steps necessary to correct those things that we identify that’s needing improved upon we are going to continue to make the same mistakes,” said Avery. “We’ve been fortunate so far but at some point our luck is going to run out.”
The commissioners discussed their responsibility in making sure the plan is followed. Roose mentioned the options of assigning one of the commissioners to be responsible for coming to the EOC to ensure there is enough help onsite. Communication is a vital part of the emergency plan.
“I would hope they would want to come because it is the right thing to do for the people they are serving in the community,” said Avery. “Honestly, in my opinion, I’ve said this before, that’s the whole purpose why we’re here. That’s why government exists, to serve the people. In times of disaster or emergency it is even more critical that we do that.”
Commissioner Kevin Overmyer decided that commissioners should wait until the next meeting to decide what to do.
“To pass this just to pass it, I don’t know I think we need to. Maybe think about this for two weeks and see if there can be some reaching across the different levels of government to see if we can’t get these people pulled together.”
Overmyer recalled the success of a snow event in which various department head and community leaders met together in the same room. Avery shared that only three people contacted him during the severe weather event at the beginning of the month.
The current plan will remain in place until the commissioners revisit the topic at the next meeting.
Later in the commissioners meeting during the County Attorney report by James Clevenger in regards to the emergency plan said, “I don’t think the tool is the problem, the comprehensive plan is not the problem, I think getting the people to use it is the problem.”

This story was originally printed in the July 23 edition of the Pilot News.