Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

News

May 21, 2013

EMA director talks changes in wake of tornado anniversary

Greensburg — When a tornado ripped through Greensburg May 25, 2011, Rob Duckworth didn’t work for the Decatur County Emergency Management Agency (EMA).

In the storm’s aftermath, however, assisting cleanup efforts and working to help get daily life back on track as a Sergeant with the Decatur County Sheriff’s Department (DCSD), Duckworth began his informal training to become the agency’s director, a post he stepped into in August 2011.

With the two-year anniversary of the storm approaching, Duckworth recently took the time to speak with the Daily News about changes brought to the EMA under his watch, many of which trace their genesis back to his experiences cleaning up and helping rebuild after the storm.   

“One of the first things we put into place was our Nixle text-alert system,” the director said. “That system gives us the ability to deliver warnings directly to citizens when we know a significant event is looming or when one’s happening or about to happen. As a means of communication, text is so much more reliable during a disaster than other methods.”

The benefits of the Nixle system, which was implemented in Decatur County in July 2011, extend well beyond alerting everyday citizens, Duckworth added.

“Using Nixle,” he said, “we’re able to communicate much more effectively with shelters and emergency reporting sites after an event. After the May 2011 storms, we had feeding and comfort stations set up, but we lacked an effective means to let the public know about those. Newspaper and radio simply aren’t enough.”

Additionally, after the May 2011 storms, there were Federal-level Small Business Association loans available, but the EMA was limited in its ability to publicize those. Nixle would be a big help in getting the word out about such opportunities.

The May 2011 storms also alerted Duckworth to the need for better and more rapid damage assessment of public and individual buildings within the community.

“Ideally,” he said, “damage assessment needs to be completed within 72 hours after the event.”

Knowing the dollar amount in damage as quickly as possible is critical, in part, because those numbers are used by Federal and State governments to determine eligibility for disaster-relief money.

A conference-call system involving county and city leaders has also been put into place since the May 2011 storms.

“When we get information of an impending event or a possible event,” Duckworth said, “we bring together the mayor, the county commissioners, the street commissioner, the county highway superintendent, the sheriff, the police and fire chiefs, and representatives from each of the local volunteer fire departments for a conference call. We bring everyone together and carefully pre-plan our emergency response based on the impending or unfolding event.”

“Following the initial call,” he continued, “we bring everyone together again in 12 or 24 hours based on how rapidly events are unfolding. In the follow-up call, we talk about what’s taken care of, what’s outstanding and the best, most efficient ways to pool and use our resources.”

Conference call participants are notified of a conference through the Nixle system. Those participants are, in fact, part of a select, private, local, group of Nixle users, Duckworth added.

In August, the EMA launched Facebook and Twitter accounts (@decaturema).

“All of our Nixle broadcasts post automatically to our Facebook and Twitter pages,” the director said.

In December 2011, the EMA replaced its existing 60 kilowatt natural gas backup generator at the sheriff’s department with a 100 kilowatt diesel generator.

“The new generator is about 40 percent better than the old one,” Duckworth explained.

Additionally, the old generator didn’t provide power to either the EMA offices or to its Emergency Operations Center (EOC), both of which are located in the same building as the Sheriff’s Department. That lack of connectivity to the old backup generator wasn’t known until the May 2011 storms.

“The county commissioners funded the purchase of the new generator,” Duckworth said. “Obviously, having our EMA offices and our EOC operational during a disaster is critical in responding. In a worst-case scenario, at minimal power, our new generator will provide power to both the EMA offices and to the EOC for 48 to 72 hours.”

The director added, however, that any preparedness plan would likely include a call to Premiere AG for the delivery of extra diesel fuel, making it unlikely the backup generator would need to operate for between 48 and 72 hours without refueling.

Switching to a diesel-fueled backup generator was also crucial, Duckworth added, as natural gas isn’t as readily available as diesel.

Duckworth and the EMA aren’t junking the old generator or allowing it to sit idly though. In fact, the agency is currently considering placing the old generator in an “outlying area of Decatur County to establish a secondary physical base of operations.”

Doing so would allow the EMA to create a backup EOC in the event their normal facility was rendered unusable by an emergency.

To that end, the agency also recently purchased the old bookmobile of the Greensburg-Decatur County Public Library for use as a mobile command or instant response vehicle. The new vehicle also has a diesel generator onboard, Duckworth said, making it useful as a potential backup EOC should the need arise.

The new vehicle, Duckworth added, will “allow us to set up a physical response at the site of a disaster. That ability could prove critical to a community’s residents if a disaster leaves motor vehicles unusable or roads impassable.”

In March 2012, the EMA also provided training to more than 40 non-EMA county-and-city government employees to use WebEOC, the internet-based system used by Indiana for communicating with the state in the event of an emergency.

The system allows operators to request resources and provide updates to the state regarding local disasters and emergencies, Duckworth said.

In the event an emergency or a disaster causes the EMA to be stretched thinner than anticipated, those additional WebEOC trained personnel would be able to step in and provide additional disaster-response assistance for the EMA team.

“We now have several courthouse personnel, city and county dispatchers, supervising Police and Sheriff’s Department officers and County Highway Employees who are trained in WebEOC’s use,” Duckworth said.

Duckworth and the EMA also recently completed its first round of Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training in Clarksburg.

“CERT training teaches civilians disaster preparedness,” the director explained. “We train everyday community members how to be prepared for a disaster and how to help their neighbors. The most crucial aspect of CERT training is in allowing local members of a community to take care of smaller aspects of disaster response so that when first responders arrive on scene they can focus more on the big picture.”

Duckworth was assisted in teaching that CERT class by a member of the Rush County EMA. He pointed out that such cooperation and partnership with surrounding EMA Departments has also been “greatly enriched” in the last two years.

“We had nine civilians from Clarksburg for the CERT training and four from Rushville,” Duckworth said.

In the coming months, Duckworth intends to hold additional CERT training courses in Greensburg, Westport, St. Paul and New Point.

“Anyone interested in participating in any of our upcoming CERT training, should call us at the EMA office,” Duckworth said. “We’re not a staffed office, though, so it’s important to leave a message so we can return your phone call.”

For more information on EMA CERT training, call 663-2004. To sign up for the Nixle Alert System, text your zip code to 888777.

Contact: Rob Cox 812-663-3111 x7011

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