Maximizing disaster response, FEMA integration in Missouri
Regional, inter-county cooperation maximizes emergency management funding and resources in the southwest Missouri region.
When ice storms or tornadoes threaten the eastern Missouri lowlands, Greene County responds from a central office in the city of Springfield. But that city is just one component of Region D, an 18-county jurisdiction of emergency response centers and personnel who take pride in their model of regional cooperation and strength.
“We enjoy very much the relationship. It’s the kind of thing other cities are envious of,” Ryan Nicholls, director of the Springfield-Greene County Office of Emergency Management, said.
As Nicholls puts it, the situation boasts “great communication, collaboration — all the buzz words.” The various counties’ communicate to effective ends, such as when cleanup trucks are needed to haul away ice storm debris.
“The last time that happened, the different jurisdictions had to apply separately and were approved separately on different schedules. So we just waited until we were all cleared for approval, and the cleanup crew came out once instead of charging us for four or five different visits, Nicholls said.
In another, shining example of that partnership, when municipal, corporate, faith-based and community service teams began arriving from across the country to provide relief to Joplin, Springfield-Greene County effectively served as a coordination center for the effort. With assistance from the state Federal Emergency Management Agency office, Springfield-Greene was able to integrate and make use of tools for mapping, aerial perspective assessment, cleanup and debris management.
Based on that and previous experience, Nicholls highly recommends utilizing state-level FEMA offices as a go-between with the federal assistance program. The state offices stand ready to lighten the workload at the local level and extricate critical resources at the same time – including sending out the official distress signal to the next level.
Springfield-Greene County has taken other lessons away from Joplin. For instance, officials are studying the large amount of social media that was activated in the wake of the 2011 F5 tornado. Information about the disaster flew fast and furiously, but they realized that not all of it was accurate.
Springfield-Greene County Emergency Management is harnessing that power into a quicker and more effective emergency response by working to have first responders convey to emergency management, upon their arrival at a scene, exactly what the situation is.
In November, citizens of the county were also invited to “Like,” “Follow” and subscribe to official social media channels that were established and are now being maintained by the office.
Eight full-time and two part-time employees staff the current emergency management center. The number of people in the center swells to 75 or 100 during emergencies. But a new crisis communication center is near completion, and may be followed by an increase in staffing that will include a public information officer whose responsibilities would include social media.
“We think both of those will give all responders a quicker grasp of what’s going on… and it’s another way to utilize the resources that we have,” Nicholls said.
Like many EMOs, Springfield- Greene County relies on state Emergency Management Performance Grants for the largest portion of its crucial funding. Fifty percent of the emergency center’s operational funding comes from the grant, which Greene was again awarded in 2012.
By JODI MAGALLANES
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