Fort advances emergency management plan in 2018 budget

October 19, 2017 GMT

A proposal to develop a formal emergency management plan and officially appoint an emergency management director will be part of the Fort Atkinson City Council’s discussion of the 2018 budget next week.

By state statute, every community has to have an emergency management role.

At the council meeting Tuesday, Fort Atkinson City Manager Matt Trebatoski explained that, by default, the fire chief has been the emergency management director, but it never has been a formal appointment.

In addition, he said the city never has dedicated any resources directly to emergency management.

Fort Atkinson Fire Chief Daryl Rausch advanced the concept of the city developing a more formal emergency management plan and actually appointing a director in the role.

Prior to coming to Fort Atkinson, Rausch had been fire chief and emergency manager director of the Monroe Fire Department since January 2005. He also has been involved in developing some of the curriculum the state uses in its emergency management training.

The chief acknowledged that what he is proposing is similar to what Monroe did in 2010-11.

“I have a little heightened level of awareness because I was on the Mississippi River in 1993 and 1997,” he said, noting that he was a local incident commander during both of those floods, working 42 sixteen-hour days.

“We’re trying to be more proactive and figure out how we are going to staff these things on the front end, rather than waiting until it occurs,” Rausch said.

The chief noted that his intention is to ensure that the city take a more proactive approach to addressing the large-scale events such as natural or man-made disasters.

“I like to have a more proactive approach to those type of situations rather than reacting to them once they happen,” Rausch said, adding that he would rather try to do some mitigation work ahead of time in an attempt to identify some of the problems the city might face.

As presented, the proposed budget is $10,000 for operations in 2018-21 and a capital budget of $5,000 starting in 2019.

The chief explained that capital expenditures would include telephone lines to be utilized in emergency, computer equipment and setting up a room in a city building to function as an emergency operations center. It also might include pumps for public works or the water utility to use.

“I think what we’re looking at (is) we put a number in there as sort of a placeholder,” Rausch said. “It all depends on what the initiatives are and where the community wants it to go. If you want a very robust emergency management function, maybe more money would be necessary.”

He said that until anything moves forward, he could not provide a firm view of how it would look in three to five years.

“I have some very specific benchmarks I would like to achieve the first couple of years,” Rausch said. “Beyond that, I think I have to see how well it is received.”

On the front end, the chief said, it would require a significant amount of hours dedicated to developing the programs, policies and procedures.

“Once that all happens, the job is not a significantly large for a community this size,” he said. “I think it is appropriate to have that as an additionally assigned duty.”

While the council members noted that Rausch is more than qualified to serve in that capacity, he encouraged the members to consider others as well, due to his short shelf life within the community.

“Even if I’m appointed in this position, I need to be able to hand this off to someone else,” he said. “I’ve told you before that I have a shelf life here. I want to get the plan up and going in the right direction.”

The council members appeared supportive of the development of the plan and position.

“I think it is a very well thought-out plan,” council President Mason Becker said. “Tonight, you have brought up a lot of situations none of us have ever really considered before. What I like about this is that it is going from the current plan, which is mostly just a fire department plan, and emphasizing we need an entire community response if there is a major event involving all the city departments.”

He also noted that the budget Rausch had proposed was nominal.

The council approved a recommendation to consider the initiative as part of the 2018 budget discussion and authorize Trebatoski to appoint an emergency management director.

As he explained the proposal, Rausch cited the 2008 and 2013 floods as examples of how the city previously responded to large-scale events. In both instances, the fire department became a very integral part of the city’s response and a lot of the various emergency elements kind of fell to the department.

Over the course of those two floods, Rausch noted, past chiefs developed fairly comprehensive lists of emergency actions that need to be accomplished based on certain levels of the Rock River.

Rausch said it is a good way to address those situations, but it leaves the element of what can be done to prevent having to do those things.

“We know we have a couple of well houses that could use some back-up power and we have some manholes that have to be sandbagged as the river comes up,” the chief said. “Maybe, through a more proactive approach, we could address some of those things before the event actually took place.”

He said the second element is that once the event starts to occur, starting to document very early is very important.

“Generally after the event, some sort of emergency declaration is made to help recoup some of the cost we incur,” Rausch said. There is a significant amount of documentation that needs to take place as the event unfolds in order for that to happen.”

Rausch noted that one of the functions of a more formal emergency management program is to start gathering that documentation and even training the various locations within the city on what that documentation is.

“After a large event, we have a large stack of documentation and it is very easy to start filling out the FEMA paperwork that comes along,” he said. “That can happen anytime from two weeks to two years after the event, so it is hard to recreate those things after the event.”

Rausch noted that one of the elements of the plan is a process called hazard vulnerability assessment, which is a review of the potential impact such an incident would have.

Second is the critical infrastructure identification and determining what kind of exposure each system has.

“One of the things high on our radar right now is cyber-incidents,” Rausch said, noting that the state did a large-scale exercise last summer.

“Part of the hazard vulnerability assessment is the likelihood of those things occurring,” he said. “Is it 100-percent accurate? No, but certainly we would identify the things we can do to prioritize and work through first.”

The chief pointed out that Jefferson County does have an Emergency Management Department headed by director Donna Haugom.

“In a large-scale event, especially in this community, I think our needs are going to overwhelm the capability of the county very quickly,” Rausch said. “Secondly, if it is a large area event like a significant storm, smaller communities who have no emergency manager function are most likely going to be looking to the county for a significant amount of help.”

Rausch suggested that with Fort Atkinson being one of the largest municipalities within the county, it is important for it to have its own capability to function.

He explained that the intention would be to adopt the county’s emergency management plan with additions that apply locally to Fort Atkinson so there would not be opposing plans and priorities.

Haugom, as well as state officials, reviewed Rausch’s proposal before he presented it to the council.

The chief said that initially, the plan would entail compiling a lot of written material, policies and procedures and some training about how that needs to happen when the system is necessary.

“One of the key elements is a process called unified command, where in the emergency operations center is a representative from each of the agencies within the city, so when things are going on at an incident scene, there is some coordination back here to help those different departments meet those needs,” he said.

The chief said the question is where the city is with mutual-aid agreements with Departments of Public Works or other equipment from other communities.

He said it also could involve developing some equipment lists with private contractors and pre-positioned contracts so there is not a lot of negotiation involved if the city needs to ramp up quickly for an emergency.

Council members questioned how any plan would change how the city would interact with citizens during such a crisis.

“Sometimes in a crisis situation, it is when communities really show what they are made of,” council member Beth Gehred said. “We certainly don’t want to disempower people from solving their own problems.”

Rausch said one can look at it two different ways: the Hurricane Katrina side, where everybody expected the government to do everything for them, or the Wisconsin approach, where everybody by default takes care of the problem themselves.

“We tend to be the type of people that solve our own problems and have family connections,” the chief said.

Under that scenario, he said, it still is important to have public information officers distributing information on how to prepare and how to respond when the event occurs.