Emergency workers always hope for best, but prepare for worst

Posted: Saturday, March 04, 2000

The Kenai Peninsula Borough is vulnerable to all sorts of potential problems. Luckily, it has the Office of Emergency Management.

The OEM is a borough department created in 1993 for the sole purpose of making sure the government and the public are as prepared as possible for every eventuality.

John Alcantra, the borough emergency management co-ordinator, said the three-person office performs public education services -- including information booths at community events -- coordinates the peninsula's 911 service and keeps the emergency response plans up-to-date and running smoothly.

Another of the OEM's duties is to oversee the borough's incident management team (IMT), a coordinated program for responding to emergencies. The IMT system focuses on teamwork and playing on existing strengths.

In a disaster, someone trained for that particular event takes the lead role, that of incident commander. For example, in a wildfire situation, a local fire chief would hold the reins.

A contingency plan exists in each of the borough's designated five zones. The zones are broken up geographically into north, south, east and west sections of the peninsula, along with the western coast of Cook Inlet.

A copy of the pre-determined, step-by-step response is available and can be followed even by untrained individuals, should the trained be unavailable or needed elsewhere.

"Having a good, solid plan can make it so semi-trained or untrained people can come in and help out," Alcantra said.

Alcantra said the greatest difficulty facing the OEM is the limits on personnel.

"Our borough incident management team doesn't have the depth to cover two different events," he said.

"The intangible of who is going to be hurt, who's going to be killed becomes a major concern," Alcantra continued.

One way to get around this is to cross-train borough staff. That way they can be temporarily re-assigned when need be.

Alcantra said the peninsula's OEM, disaster plan and emergency planning committee consistently have earned the respect of emergency professionals.

The local emergency planning committee is made up of emergency personnel as well as other citizens and works with the OEM on things like public education and ensuring the public's needs are met.

"We have a good OEM staff already in place," Alcantra said. "There's people with (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) and other organizations who have been absolutely floored by (the scope and efficiency of) our local emergency planning committee."

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