New ESFs aim to make crisis response smoother

Monongalia County will soon have a new set of emergency operation plans that use a flexible framework called emergency support functions.
“There’s 15 ESFs, or emergency support functions, and they deal with everything
from public works to transportation to medical care, HAZMAT, fire, all the way to 15 and 16 deal with long term recovery and housing,” Mike Fortney, assistant emergency manager for MECCA 911 said.
Old emergency plans read like books and could be inches thick while the ESFs are a bullet point list and only a few pages long, Fortney said.
Director Jim Smith said almost everybody in the country has the same ESFs, which means if reinforcements from Mercer County arrive, they can just be told what ESF is being activated and they’ll know what the situation is.
As part of the EOP building process, MECCA held meetings with stakeholders for all of the various ESFs and representatives from all the utilities — from Mon Power and the Morgantown Utility Board to small public service districts. Planning for a flood in the western part of the county won’t help if the Clay-Battelle water utility isn’t included, Smith said.
“We brought all those people in, so when we went over the ESF function we made sure we had the proper contacts; we know what their capabilities are,” Smith said. “And we did that with each ESF, and that way all the units that will have a major role in each one of those ESFs was able to sit down and say, ‘I can provide this. We can do this. We cannot do that.’ So that there is a very clear picture of what our capabilities are.”
Smith said Monongalia County is very cooperative, not just in regards to first responders, but the entire community. Fortney said even representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency were shocked at how many people showed up for the ESF planning meetings.
Part of the ESF planning meetings involved anticipating problems before they became problems during a disaster. For example, the local morgue is not large enough to hold 50 bodies, should that many people die in a disaster, Smith said.
Or if 5,000 people need evacuated, where do you find that many buses? The answer is Mountain Line, Smith said. The bus service is the first to be activated in an emergency. Fortney said one thing to remember is in some cases, life is still going on despite a disaster and pulling school buses could cause more problems than it fixes.
The plans also consider where reinforcements come from in a large-scale disaster. If, for example, Granville needed help battling a blaze, other county departments would be called in first. Next, departments from surrounding counties, like Marion and Preston would be called in. If even more help is needed, it needs to skip a county, Fortney said. That’s to prevent creating too large of an area without emergency service coverage, he explained.
Smith said the plans could be ready as early as August but September is the deadline. After they’re ready, the county commission will need to approve them before the governor’s office does the same and they are implemented.

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