FACING EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS CHALLENGES
(from Maine Townsman, December 2001)
By Jeff Nevins, Director of Communications and Educational Services, MMA

 

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, many municipal officials were asking what they should do.  At a meeting in Augusta following the attacks, one municipal official said, “During the events on the September 11, I was thinking these things don’t happen in Maine. I wasn’t particularly concerned about my role or my community’s emergency preparedness; because we don’t have 110-story buildings and I found it hard to think about this coming to Maine. Then, as the day unfolded, the hijacked plane crashed in rural western Pennsylvania. At this point, it was obvious that the day’s events had directly impacted all of us.”

These observations by a town manager from a small rural community in Maine were not unique. Many municipal officials, obviously emotionally impacted by the terrorist attacks, were struggling to find answers to their questions. One typical question was, “What are the steps I need to take in my town?” Another manager asked whom he would call if the plane (in western Pennsylvania) had crashed in his town? He said he wasn’t sure who should take charge at the scene and lamented the prospect of a volunteer fire department facing the daunting task of being the first responders. These and other concerns raised the visibility of government officials involved in emergency planning. It also raised questions about Maine’s emergency preparedness and what the future looks like.

This article will strive to answer a number of questions about emergency planning for Maine and its 492 municipalities. It will try to provide answers to a number of questions:

• What is the reality of emergency planning in Maine?  What are the roles and responsibilities of local officials in Maine? Who’s in charge after an emergency occurs?

• What are the threats facing Mainers? What could happen in Maine?

• “Who’s Who” in emergency planning? What are the resources to help municipal officials start the process? This section will examine the state, county and federal resources involved in emergency preparedness.

• Do you have an emergency plan in your community or region?  What should communities do to prepare for an emergency? Where are the resources to help in emergency planning? How does a community start planning? What role should municipal officials play in dealing with emergency preparedness? What are the basic components of an emergency plan?

• What training is available for local officials? The report will examine training resources that can help municipal officials learn about their roles and responsibilities.

• Lastly, the final section will look at the impacts the terrorists attacks have had on Maine. We’ll look at the costs associated with the increased security demands and what the future looks like?

The realities of emergency planning in Maine

Maine has faced a number of emergency situations over the past 25 years. Most of the situations involved natural disasters. Most common emergencies in Maine revolve around weather related emergencies. Flooding, fires, snowstorms, or hurricane threats are the most common threats. Emergency response and emergency planning are often broken down into three categories:

1) Criminal emergencies – Incidents like the Columbine High School situation.

2) Terrorist activities – These incidents are a Federal crime and the FBI takes the lead investigative role.

3) Natural disasters or technological hazards – Technological hazards (e.g., major fires and explosions, nuclear power plant incidents, large building collapses) and natural disasters (e.g., floods, earthquakes).

      These incidents all involve multi-jurisdictional cooperation and coordination.  Local authorities are the first responders to these incidents. They must be prepared to deal with a wide-variety of incidents and take control until other resources are brought to the scene. Critics of emergency response efforts often identify the lack of coordination and cooperation between the levels of government as the primary problem. Recently, a prime example of a breakdown hit close to home.  Reportedly, Federal authorities had been observing the terrorists who boarded flights in Portland for some time, yet had not notified local law enforcement. It points to the need that all levels work cooperatively to assure that resources are used most efficiently.

Statewide, the “Ice Storm” of 1998 raised Mainers’ focus on emergency preparedness. It showed the state’s ability to address a statewide emergency that cut off electrical power to most of Maine. Like the attack on the World Trade Center, it was an opportunity for people to step forward, work together, and help each other.

Last winter, a multi-vehicle chain reaction accident on I-95 in Hampden showed - on a smaller scale - how local communities through mutual aid agreements address emergencies. Local fire, police, and emergency personnel responded to the accident to secure the area, treat the injured and transport those seriously hurt to the hospital. The incident was handled well and the communities in the region worked together to respond to the incident.

Maine has been fortunate to avoid incidents like the attack on Columbine High School in Colorado. Many school and local officials have looked at ways to address the potential for violence in schools and the workplace. The new world order (or “disorder”) is forcing local emergency planning officials to look at the threat of terrorist attacks. In Maine, officials are also focused on protecting water supplies, securing dams and utility structures, airport security, port security, and watching over the state’s infrastructure.

Still, despite the horrifying events of September 11th the State of Maine’s highest emergency threat is likely to come from a natural occurrence or accident, not from terrorist activity.

“Who’s Who?” in emergency preparedness and domestic terrorism?

The following is an outline of the key Federal, State, and local organizations involved in emergency preparedness:

Federal:

Office of Homeland Security.  The Office of Homeland Security is coordinating national strategy to strengthen protections against terrorist threats or attacks in the United States.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  Is an independent agency of the federal government, reporting to the President. Founded in 1979, FEMA’s mission is to reduce loss of life and property and protect our nation’s critical infrastructure from all types of hazards.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).  The lead agency in investigating incidents determined to be initiated by terrorists.

National Domestic Preparedness Office (NDPO).  The office, situated within the FBI, is billed as the “single point of contact for the Federal, State and local responder community.”

Department of Defense (DOD).  The DOD plays a critical supporting role in counter terrorism efforts.

Department of Energy (DOE).  The DOE serves as the technical response provider to nuclear and radiological emergencies.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  EPA’s participation includes identifying and monitoring hazardous substances, decontamination, and site clean up, with the goal of protecting health and the environment.

State and Local Agencies:

Maine Emergency Management Agency (MEMA).  MEMA is a bureau of the Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management. MEMA’s mission is to lessen the effects of disaster on the lives and property of the people of Maine through leadership, coordination and support in the four phases of emergency management: mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.

State Emergency Response Commission (SERC).  Designate emergency planning districts to facilitate preparation and implementation of emergency response plans.

Local and County Emergency Management Agencies.  The local and county EMA’s are responsible for developing emergency plans for their regions. They are available to help assist municipalities with their emergency planning process. EMA’s coordinate disaster assistance between local communities and either the Federal or State government. They help develop “what to do” plans in the event of an emergency (hurricane, blizzard, ice storm) and run “practice drills” to make sure those plans work. They are listed in the directory at the end, or you can access the list and EMA websites by going to http://www.maine.gov/mema/about/mema_county.shtml.

Maine Department of Public Safety.  Public Safety assists and coordinates the law enforcement response in Maine, including working with local and county law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Maine Department of Human Services’ Bureau of Health.  The Department assures Maine has a good system for early detection and responsiveness to diseases that could be caused by biological weapons. It educates health care providers on diseases that could be cause for concern and assists MEMA and other agencies with public health and medical guidance.

Do you have an emergency plan in your community or region?

Local government leaders must be sure their community is prepared to meet emergencies in the future. They need to develop an emergency plan.

Where to start? The resources exist to help municipal officials get started. There are a number of steps that a municipal official should take in evaluating the state of emergency management in your community:

• Review and update your community’s emergency plan.

• If you haven’t developed a plan, contact the County Emergency Management Agency in your area. They will assist you in preparing a plan.

• Make sure you know who is in charge in the event of an emergency or disaster. Emergency management starts at the top and should include fire, police, and emergency personnel from your community and the region.

• Identify all the resources available in your community. Meet the people who are conducting emergency planning in the region. Talk with other communities the same size as yours, to see what they have done for emergency planning and ask if they will share their plan.

• The following is a short list of the organizations and people who should be involved in developing a local emergency plan:

– County EMA

– Police and fire – local, state and county

– Emergency service providers

– Hospitals or local medical/healthcare providers and clinics

– Business and Industry – the local business community

– Schools

– Utilities, including water districts and water treatment facilities

– Local non-profits like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army

– Local elected and appointed municipal officials

– Town managers, city managers, and legal counsel

– State, County and Federal representatives as appropriate

• Develop a list of the most likely emergency scenarios in your area. Assess what training your community needs to deal with the range of hazards most likely to occur.

• Evaluate how prepared your community is to be the “first responder” to a range of threats or hazards. Know whom to call in the event of a disaster.

• Remember that the local authorities, as the first responders, are likely to be on their own for 4-10 hours. Federal and State assets have planned for rapid deployment, but it will take time for these assets to reach the scene.

• Conduct readiness drills and exercises. Attend your Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) meetings and participate in the readiness drills to learn about your responsibilities.

• Understand the roles and responsibilities of emergency planning. In Maine, the state government’s planning team includes officials from the Maine Emergency Management Agency, the National Guard, Emergency Medical Services, Public Safety, the Fire Marshal’s Offices and the Bureau of Health. Familiarize yourself with this group’s activities and look for ways to foster cooperation and coordination at the local and regional level.

• MEMA (and many others) have emergency management and disaster response checklists that will help municipal officials review the steps they need to take to prepare their community.

Training for local officials?

Training opportunities are offered on a wide range of topics. Many of these programs are designed for local officials and are offered at different locations around the state. These training courses, developed and funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), are available to government officials from all levels of government, emergency services personnel, representatives from private sector organizations, representatives of business and industry, and other personnel with responsibility for response to or management of resources related to emergency preparedness activities of government.

The Maine Fire Training and Education, a department of the Southern Maine Technical College offers free and low-cost hands-on and classroom training and education to fire department members, employees of private industry, and citizens statewide.

And finally, the National Emergency Training Center (NETC) in Emmitsburg, Maryland, offers courses and programs aimed at the development and delivery of training to enhance the capabilities of Federal, State, local and Tribal government officials, volunteer organizations, and the public and private sectors to minimize the impact of disasters on the American public.

A contact list of the training providers is included in the Resource Directory on page 26.(end of this article)

What does the future look like?

Recent polls have shown that many people have refocused on community and are looking at the world differently. In Maine, much of the focus has been supporting and training local officials on how to respond to emergencies.  Many municipal officials have dug out their emergency plan and started to review and revise. Others are looking for guidance and assistance in putting together a plan.

The primary focus, for many, is to assure and maintain the public confidence in local government’s ability to address emergency issues.  The public wants to feel that government, at all levels, is in control. This presents a significant challenge as the news media focuses on growing threats to our nation’s security. One day it’s the potential for an attack on a nuclear facility or a cruise ship, next it’s concerns about anthrax exposures, smallpox and other bioterrorism threats, then the focus shifts to more information about lax security at our airports. The situation is changing fast and often.  The challenge for local government is to manage and meet the public’s expectations.

Not only are government officials working to restore the public confidence, the new security concerns are putting stress on budgets. The cost of added security measures and the future costs to assure that we are capable of dealing with disasters, terrorism and natural emergencies must fall somewhere. Many of these added security costs are not one-time, but likely ongoing burdens to state taxpayers.  According to a Bangor Daily News editorial, the estimate in Maine is that they will add $20 million a year to the budget after the first year. That same editorial says Governor King estimates Maine needs $31 million this year to combat terrorism. Many expect some of the costs to fall to municipalities, adding to local budget stress.

The time is now to start planning and preparing to address these issues. It is essential that elected officials support and participate in these activities. Many communities have specific changes they are planning as a result of September 11th:

• Seek more state and federal grants for terrorism training.

• Update emergency equipment.

• Hire additional police and fire personnel.

• Obtain better media and communications equipment to monitor situations.

• Improve security coordination with military bases, federal labs, and defense facilities.

• Make permanent street closures around certain city and federal buildings.

• Expand airport security.

• Obtain training in how to respond to biological and chemical poisoning.

• Learn better ways to monitor safety of water supplies and keep them safe.

• Provide training on new FAA rules regarding airport safety.

• Secure supplies of blood, fuel reserves, and other necessities.

• Build in mental health planning to provide counseling for first responders and citizens.

 

  These are just a few examples of how some cities are going forth. No doubt, the emphasis on emergency planning and preparedness is going to increase. The challenge will be to coordinate efforts, restore the public confidence, and meet the ever-increasing demands during a period of economic slowdown.

 

RESOURCE DIRECTORY

 

Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency

Management

Maine Emergency Management Agency

1-800-452-8735  www.maine.gov/mema

Maine Department of Human Services/Bureau of Health

Dora Anne Mills, M.D., M.P.H., Director

(207) 287-3270  www.maine.gov/dhs

Maine Department of Public Safety

State Police Headquarters

(207) 624-4664; 1-800-452-4664

Maine County Emergency Management Agency

Contacts:

Androscoggin Unified EMA

Peter Van Gagnon, Director

Lewiston – 784-0147

Aroostook County EMA*

Vernon R. Ouellette, Director

Limestone – 328-4480

Cumberland County EMA*

George A. Flaherty, Director

Windham – 892-6785

Franklin County EMA*

Clyde C. Barker, Director

Farmington – 778-5892

Hancock County EMA*

Ralph E. Pinkham, Director

Ellsworth – 557-8126

Kennebec County EMA

Vincent A. Cerasuolo, Director

Augusta – 623-8407

Knox County EMA*

Sylvia E. Birmingham, Director

Rockland – 594-5155

Lincoln County EMA*

Gerald R. Silva, Director

Wiscasset – 882-7559

Oxford County EMA*

Dan A. Schorr, Director

South Paris – 743-6336

Penobscot County EMA*

Blair “Bert” Ingraham, Director

Bangor – 945-4750

Piscataquis County EMA

Robert C. Wilson, Director

Dover-Foxcroft – 564-8660

Sagadahoc County EMA

Robert F. Annese, Director

Bath – 443-8210

Somerset County EMA

Dale W. Sweet, Director

Skowhegan – 474-6788

Waldo County EMA

Richard A. Farris, Director

Belfast – 338-3870

Washington County EMA

Paul E. Thompson, Director

Machias – 325-3931

York County EMA*

Robert C. Bohlmann, Director

Alfred – 324-1578

* Those listings marked with an asterisk have websites. You can access the websites by going to http://www.maine.gov/mema/about/mema_county.shtml

National League of Cities

(202) 626-3000  www.nlc.org

International City/County Management Association

www.icma.org

National Domestic Preparedness Office

(202) 324-8186

Domestic Preparedness Helpline(before an incident):

1-800-368-6498

Domestic Preparedness Hotline (after an incident):

1-800-424-8802

www.fbi.gov/programs.htm

Centers for Disease Control

1-800-311-3435  www.cdc.gov

Department of Defense

(703) 695-5261  www.defenselink.mil

Department of Energy

(202) 401-3000  www.doe.gov

Department of Justice

(202) 514-2001  www.usdoj.gov

Environmental Protection Agency

(202) 260-4700  www.epa.gov

Federal Emergency Management Agency

(202) 646-4600  www.fema.gov

Training Resources

Maine Emergency Management Agency (MEMA)

1-800-452-8735  www.maine.gov/mema/training.htm

Email: michael.f.grant@maine.gov

Maine Fire Training & Education

S.M.T.C., South Portland, Maine 04106

(207) 767-9555  www.mainefiretraining.net

FEMA Independent Study Program

Emergency Management Institute

16825 South Seton Avenue

Emmitsburg, MD 21727

(301) 447-1000  www.fema.gov/emi/ishome.htm

Emergency Management Institute

16825 South Seton Avenue

Emmitsburg, MD 21727

(301) 447-1000  http://www.fema.gov/emi/relist.htm