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Ref: Lessons-learned and partnerships discussed at emergency managers conference

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Emergency managers stress partnerships, discuss lessons learned

By Jaclyn Houghton
— By Jaclyn Houghton
CNHI News Service
OKLAHOMA CITY — Harold Tyson and Matt Lehenbauer became well versed in disaster relief this year and realized how isolated they are.
“The biggest issue is to make sure they remember we’re still out there” when disasters strike, said Lehenbauer, director of the Woodward City/County Office of Emergency Management.
Tyson serves as the Texas County emergency manager in the Oklahoma Panhandle, which was hit first with heavy snowstorms to start off a year of seven presidential emergency declarations statewide.
He said it took 36 hours to get generators to the area. He wants a mobile staging unit that can cover the 16 counties in the Panhandle and northwest Oklahoma with generators and equipment to set up shelters.
“We network,” Tyson said. “We have to because we’re so far out there.”
Networking and sharing experiences were the messages of the National Emergency Management Association’s Annual Conference in Oklahoma City on Monday.
The conference, which started Thursday and ends today, included representatives from most of the 50 states and six U.S. territories.
“Preparedness and response are not just federal issues, they have to start at local levels,” said Albert Ashwood, director of the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management and president of the National Emergency Management Association.
He said a big obstacle in preparedness is “keeping it out front as an issue that can affect cities and counties.”
Oklahoma is a state that sees its fair share of disasters, especially related to weather. This year there have been ice storms, snowstorms, flooding and tornados. Last year wildfires spread throughout the state.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator David Paulison hopes to see more regionalization in response efforts for disasters. He said Congress approved 180 new positions for the agency, and 150 of those positions will go for regional programs. He would like to see more people, more money and more authority going toward the 10 regional emergency management offices.
Working together was vital to the response efforts of the May 4 tornado in Greensburg, Kan., that destroyed about 95 percent of the town and killed 11 locally and three others outside of the town.
The tornado sirens sounded about six minutes before the category F-5 tornado struck the city of about 1,600.
Major General Tod Bunting, adjutant general for the State of Kansas, said residents were fortunate to have about 20 minutes of advance warning about the storm, which helped save lives. He said there were things he learned in the disaster relief process, like having strong relationships with other communities and how vital it is to set up disaster recovery centers.
“Don’t be shy,” he advised emergency management officials from throughout the country. “If you think you’ll need some help, ask for it.”
As the city starts to rebuild, Bunting said it was a challenge to get a grocery store built because there is no guarantee there will be the population to support it. The state has provided money to rebuild the community and get jobs back, he said.
Finding out what other communities have learned through disasters is what Don Hamilton would like to accomplish by creating a Web page for emergency management officials to talk to their peers in a trusted environment.
Hamilton is the executive director of the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism in Oklahoma City, which was created after the April 19, 1995, bombing of Oklahoma City's Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. The organization provides information about preparedness and terrorism prevention and provides a section on lessons learned from past incidents.
“Everybody sees the police and fire(fighters) and they are the subjects of movies and on (television) series,” Hamilton joked. “If there’s been a movie on emergency managers, then I’ve missed it.”
He said in this country when the lights go out, people know someone is working to fix it. When emergency personnel are more prepared, it slows down the “developing madness” from the public, Hamilton said.
Jimmy Moore, director of emergency management for the city of Muskogee, knows how important staying prepared is. He said this year with the flooding in the state he had to go door to door to check houses. He said the ice storms this year also created emergency situations. About 95 percent of disasters in Muskogee are weather related, Moore said, noting that funding to stay prepared is always a challenge.
He attended the conference Monday because he realizes the importance of building relationships with others in similar positions across the country.
“Disaster’s not time to build one (relationship),” Moore said.
Jaclyn Houghton is CNHI News Service Oklahoma reporter.

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