Partnerships play key role in being prepared

Posted: Monday, January 14, 2002

Alaska will remain safe from harm because of community partnerships established long before there was a heightened sense of awareness of potential terrorism threats.

This was the message Jim Harris, the state emergency services manager, and Brig. Gen. Stephen Korenek, director of the Alaska National Guard, delivered at Wednesday's Kenai Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Harris said there were important lessons that the nation, as a whole, took for granted following the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Okla.

"It's very important that communities exercise and work together and figure out who has the assets and resources and who is going to be in charge," Harris said. "Oklahoma City changed our lives. What we failed to do is take that into consideration and start the necessary planning and start the necessary homeland security."

He said Alaska did eventually begin forming the state emergency coordination center at Fort Richardson.

"That didn't happen overnight," Harris said. "It actually came into fruition (during) the big dreaded Y2K rollover event. We had already started practicing. We had already started generating partners."

Harris said the center was put into place with the ability to reach out and touch any asset in the state. In times of emergency, he said the center had developed links with federal, state and municipal agencies across the state to use needed resources to provide aid.

"It doesn't make much difference whether it's a federal asset -- a real federal (Department of Defense) dedicated federal asset -- or a guard asset, as well as other state agencies, as well as other municipalities, and as well as other industries within the state," he said.

Korenek said the National Guard was just one of the many parts that would center around emergency services in times of disaster. He said Harris' office would take charge of his command during an emergency.

"Emergency services is really the 'go-to' agency for domestic preparedness," he said. "I have soldiers and stuff. I provide that when they ask for it. They're planners. They're the guys your local emergency folks will get in touch with when they have a problem, and they'll decide how to fill the need and where to go."

Partnerships, Harris said, also were developed with the Federal Aviation Administration, BP, Phillips Petroleum and the Alaskan Command, the active duty component of the U.S. Air Force at Elmendorf Air Base. He said the local borough emergency operations throughout the state also have been tied into the web of communication.

Harris said he went to New York City following the Sept. 11 disaster to assist in coordinating emergency communication at ground zero. He said there was not a clear understanding where and how responsibilities were distributed among the recruited managers from around the country.

"It was an issue because there had not been partnerships established and there had not been exercises developed where these partners came together as a community and resolve those issues beforehand," he said.

He encouraged members of the chamber to begin forming partnerships on a local level. He suggested developing business continuity plans, so that companies that have to close due to a disaster don't remain closed because they are unable to find an alternate work space and working infrastructure.

"Statistically, if you do not open your doors three days after an event, you will never open your doors," he said.

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