Refresher course keeps peninsula ready for disaster

Posted: Monday, October 09, 2000

A varied group of area law enforcement, emergency services personnel and management leaders got a refresher course this week in dealing with disasters.

The three-day Kenai Peninsula Borough Emergency Response Plan Training course, which wraps up today at the Borough Building in Soldotna, brought together a cross-section of community members representing several disciplines -- all of which are commonly pressed into service during a disaster.

Course instructors on Wednesday took participants through a refresher of a standard Incident Command System structure and reviewed the borough's current emergency plan, which includes a new draft "annex" on evacuation. Thursday's course work focused on a real-time emergency scenario involving implementation of a disaster plan, while today's training wraps up the course with a debriefing with the staff of the borough's Office of Emergency Management.

All instructors pointed to incidents like the 1995 fall floods, the Homer Icicle Seafoods plant explosion and last year's road closures due to avalanches as proof that a well-tuned disaster plan is essential.

In the Wednesday afternoon session, instructor Bill Morse outlined the history and structure of the Incident Command System, a nationwide blueprint for managing the various agencies and personnel drawn together in responding to a widespread disaster. Morse, a Fritz Creek resident, is the owner of Pinkston Enterprises, an emergency management consulting firm.

"This is a very dynamic business," Morse said, "and (the Incident Command System) will give you a system to say 'I don't how to deal with the fire yet, but I can deal with the people.' That's half the problem."

Terry Anderson emphasized the planning aspect of managing a disaster, highlighting the need for a written action plan, methods of documentation as well as a demobilization plan when the response team is finished. Anderson, a 22-year resident of Homer, works for the state Department of Natural Resources, teaches incident management and provides response work as a private contractor. He stressed the need for thorough documentation.

"If you didn't write if down, it didn't happen," Anderson said. "You have to make sure all the information is collected. When it's all over and someone asks why this action was ordered and who carried it out, you have to know."

Instructor Jim Butler, a Kenai lawyer who also specializes in incident management team training, emphasized documentation as it relates to finance of the operation.

"Documentation is essential," Butler said. "If you can't document the overtime hours, you won't get it. You have to have a system in place to track those hours because, two years from now, the accountants will come in and question those expenditures."

Conference participants also received an overview of the current borough emergency plan during the Wednesday session and got a look at the latest proposed addition to the plan concerning evacuations. The current borough zone plan was finished in 1996, Morse said, adding "now we're in the update mode."

The borough plan is divided into four zones: North, East, Central and South. Each is identified with hazards specific to the region. Morse said each zone has a geographic and demographic description as well as maps of hazard assessments for residents and property. Other sections of the plan include an operations guide, a checklist of tasks and criteria for declaring a disaster. The guide contains information on alerting the public, evacuations, shelter and feeding of evacuees and a telephone call list, to name a few.

Other separate guides deal with command structure, logistics, finance, proper paper work and resource listings once a disaster is declared. Morse said a section of the resource listing takes a look at what grocery stores are found in each zone and what food each has on hand.

"In Alaska, we live very tenuously when it comes to supplies," Morse said. "When the avalanches last winter closed the roads, there was no milk in Homer within hours. We have to know what and how much is out there regarding supplies."

The new draft evacuation plan sought to draw from previous incidents in the state, like the 1996 Millers Reach Fire in the Matanuska-Susitna valleys. Morse authored the plan, which was developed this spring. It will be reviewed by agencies throughout the borough as well as the borough's Local Emergency Planning Committee, a separate agency made up of industry, public safety and business representatives.

"It gives a detailed plan on how to do an evacuation and addresses the roles different agencies take," Morse said. "We want to be able to put something in the hands of the responders that clearly outlines what to do along with addressing the legal ramifications."

Morse added a new annex plan in the works will focus on evacuating pets.

"For some people, making that decision to leave can hinge on the safety of their pets," Morse said. "If we can put a plan in place that takes care of their pets, then maybe they won't think twice about putting themselves at risk by staying behind in an evacuation."

Borough Office of Emergency Management Coordinator Jan Henry said the week's training was especially timely.

"Clearly the fire danger on the Kenai should be what drives the OEM in the next few years," said Henry, who began his duties as the new coordinator in August. "Those beetle-killed trees aren't going away. It's good to have this type of training."

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