City employees respond to disaster areas through Kansas Disaster Assessment Team

Before a town struck by natural disaster can begin to rebuild, the damage has to be assessed. Structures hit by tornadoes have to be inspected for safety and flood damage has to be placed on a scale of livable or a health risk, all before the real clean-up can begin.

In the state of Kansas, the group responsible for this job is the Kansas Disaster Assessment Team and De Soto City Clerk Lana McPherson and Building Official Steve Chick are members.

"As a community, if disaster were to strike in De Soto, we would look to other communities for assistance," Chick said. "It's only right that we help them too."

As members of the team, Chick and McPherson may be called to respond to any disaster in the state of Kansas. In 2007, Chick was on the scene in Greensburg, Kan. to help with the assessment process and this past Sunday, McPherson reported to Reading.

"You never know when you'll need to go, especially this time of year," McPherson said. "We keep bags packed and gear ready and can leave at the drop of a hat."

At the scene, wherever it may be, Chick's job is to assess building structures and place them on a damage scale. McPherson completes paperwork documenting the amount of damage done to each parcel in the area, paperwork that is necessary to receive aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"We're there to start the process that will eventually lead to rebuilding," Chick said.

While the job they do is an important one and one they willingly take up, it is not an easy job. Not every building can be listed on the damage assessment scale, it is simply gone.

"You have to remind yourself you're there to do a job, it would be so easy to stop and put your arms around a family looking at the remains of their home and cry with them but you can't," McPherson said. "What I can do is stand there as I write on my clipboard and fill out forms is listen to their stories, that's all they truly want."

Both McPherson and Chick are quick to point out that they are not the only ones from De Soto helping other communities. Their efforts would not be possible without the support of other city staff, they said.

"It's a team effort, really," McPherson said. "When we're gone, out working in another community, everyone here in De Soto steps up and helps fill our spots."

"It's really a city contribution," Chick said. "It's like we're ambassadors for De Soto and people recognize that."

Working with KDAT requires intensive initial training and frequent refresher courses, but McPherson and Chick still encourage others to find a way to help if interested. The best place to start, according to McPherson, is the Johnson County Emergency Management department. The City of De Soto will also be sponsoring its first-ever Community Service Day this fall, details are still to come, according to Chick.

"De Soto is comparable to larger cities when it comes to being there to help, it always has been," said McPherson, who has lived in De Soto her whole life. "We as a city are always there, people know we will always step up for those in need and that says a lot about the people here."

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