Who's on first?
DAY 4 OF THE FEMA-SPONSORED INTEGRATED EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT COURSE
(Nicole Montesano/N-R Reporter) Three days after the major earthquake that struck Yamhill County, participants playing the role of emergency operations managers found themselves facing a quandry over recovery operations: Which issue to prioritize first?
Restoring power and water were high on the list – but restoring power will be out of the county's control; it will be the business of private utilities.
Those utilities will require cleared roads, and in some cases, possibly police escorts, to work in damaged areas.
Sewer and water service might depend on restoring electricity. Meanwhile, residents may need to boil or otherwise sterlize water – but officials might need to provide instructions on how to do so, if both electricity and gas are turned off.
Once power is restored, some participants pointed out, it will create a demand from residents and businesses to re-enter their property – and complaints, from those whose power is still out.
Re-entry creates its own package of headaches: Where will the county find enough building inspectors to go through all of the homes and businesses in a timely fashion? How will officials ensure that the people enter only their own property? How to prevent determined owners, looters and squatters from entering buildings tagged as unsafe?
How will cities and the county keep services operating, if a large portion of the tax base is destroyed?
“The lesson here is that all of these pieces are inter-related,” County Emergency Manager Doug McGillivray said. “No one group has all of the answer.”
Some participants, he said, told him they felt disappointed in themselves, and believed that the exercise had gone poorly, because things went wrong.
On the contrary, McGillivray said; observing what went wrong is a crucial part of the exercise.
“Now you know what to fix,” he said.
One comment heard repeatedly throughout the exercise was that participants were seeing a number of items they could begin working on immediately, to make an actual emergency run more smoothly. With public education handouts, lists of local resources and contact information, and some policy decisions done ahead of time, they said, they could spare some of the work they found themselves doing under pressure during the exercise, and save time.