Archive for Thursday, September 8, 2005

County joins relief task force

September 8, 2005

Johnson County is involved in a disaster response effort that could send dozens of area public employees to areas ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.

The task force, which also includes employees of Douglas, Leavenworth and Wyandotte counties, will be under the direction of the Unified Command Center at the Wyandotte County Department of Emergency Management in Kansas City, Kan., with active involvement and volunteer participation from Johnson County government. The center will be working in partnership with the other three counties and the Kansas Division of Emergency Management.

The so-called Kansas Response and Recovery Team will pool resources and coordinate relief efforts in providing assistance to hurricane victims under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact.

"We are putting together a team that can go down there and be self-sufficient," said Mike Selves, Johnson County's director of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. "We want a team that can support itself and not be a burden on the entity that we're supporting."

Selves made his comments in a late-morning briefing Tuesday to about two dozen Johnson County department heads or representatives in a brief meeting at the County Administration Building.

Chuck Magaha, the Leavenworth County director of emergency management, on Tuesday briefed representatives from public agencies throughout the county about the team.

"What we've proposed to do is to put together a total package that when we go to a deployed area we will be self-supportive, self-sustained and self-efficient to provide the task that we've been assigned to do," Magaha said.

In other words, the plan is to avoid sending relief workers to Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama and having them add to the problem they were sent to help alleviate.

"We're not going to have to depend on anybody to be able to sustain ourselves," said Keith Yoder, the Kansas City metro area coordinator for the Homeland Security section of the Kansas Adjutant General's Office. "We're going to have fuel. We're going to have food. We're going to have a base camp. We're going to have communications."

Yoder said the four counties were involved in the effort for several key reasons: There are more assets in the area than anywhere else in the state; emergency preparedness officials in the four counties have worked together on numerous other issues; and mobilizations on prior efforts showed such a need existed.

The plan was being submitted Tuesday to Maj. Gen. Tod Bunting, the state's adjutant general. If he accepts the plan, the services will be offered to emergency preparedness officials in states devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Because the needs in the ravaged areas are many, Magaha said Tuesday's meeting was partly meant to gauge support for the effort from public agencies throughout Leavenworth County.

Already, he said, the response team had commitments within the four counties for more than 140 public employees to be deployed, including 36 firefighters, 24 law enforcement officers, 17 nurses, a doctor and five emergency medical services units. The Kansas Speedway has been secured as a staging area for the effort.

To avoid sending people and equipment that aren't necessary, the initial foray by the response team into the hurricane-torn area will be reconnaissance in nature, Magaha said. Maj. Pat Kitchens of the Leavenworth Police Department will be on the command staff that will lead that mission.

Another reason the four-county effort is drawing on equipment and staffing from a multitude of public agencies is to lessen the impact on any one jurisdiction.

To further lessen the impact, Magaha said, the response team was looking to rotate individuals and equipment during the deployment. Instead of the full 120-day deployment that is being sought by FEMA, rotations would last 18 days at a time -- two days to travel to the disaster area, 14 days working and two days to travel back to Kansas.

Although the local agencies supplying the talent would be responsible for any costs upfront, the Federal Emergency Management Agency ultimately would reimburse them for the tab, Magaha said.

Neither Yoder nor Magaha offered a cost estimate to put the team in place and deploy it.

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