Wednesday May 8, 2013

All response is local. That's the basic tenet in emergency response, but that doesn't mean individual communities are on their own during times of crisis and disaster.

The Vermont Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security is the state entity charged with assisting coordinating and facilitating assistance to cities and towns in times of crisis -- and helping communities prepare for disasters. You will never see rescue trucks with "DEMHS" on the side, that's just not how it works, but we do provide the people and assets necessary to deal with a disaster all the same.

Every city and town in Vermont has an official emergency plan and an Emergency Management Director. This planning is the most critical part in responding to any disaster because it charts out beforehand how a response will work -- saving valuable time and resources when both are needed most. DEMHS provides technical assistance in developing these plans and conducts training for Emergency Management Directors.

During an incident, DEMHS assists local response by providing resources when communities request them. Staff from state agencies and other critical partner organizations (the Red Cross, National Guard, Search and Rescue, etc.) all have a seat at the state Emergency Operations Center. The EOC is a central location where towns that have exhausted their own resources and those of existing mutual aid agreements can call for assistance during an active incident.


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DEMHS and its partners in the EOC have databases of assets in the state like emergency generators, traffic cones, shelter locations, and many others so they can be quickly utilized by municipalities. Partners in the EOC include State Police, Agency of Transportation, Health Department, and all other incident-appropriate agencies. Public information and warning is also coordinated at the EOC so the state can speak with one consistent voice to advise citizens of current risks, road closures, or safety recommendations.

We also distribute funds for planning, response, and recovery in the form of grants. Hazard mitigation grants, Emergency Management Planning Performance Grants and others help towns gear, plan for and recover from emergencies. DEMHS provides funding for anti-terrorist and all-hazards preparedness efforts in the areas of planning, organization, equipment, training and exercises. This is done with the understanding that these funding efforts may have dual use purposes in response to other emergencies.

DEMHS is also the agency that coordinates the state Radiological Emergency Response Plan program. We have an office and staff in Brattleboro that is dedicated to the RERP plan and assisting towns in their own planning for any possible incidents at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power facility in Vernon. That planning extends to the six towns within the 10-mile Emergency Planning Zone: Vernon, Halifax, Guilford, Brattleboro, Marlboro, and Dummerston.

By statute, DEMHS is responsible for the safety of the public outside the Yankee fence, while other state agencies monitor the plant and any potential health or environmental issues that may be presented through its operations. We work with these agencies in our planning and response.

DEMHS staff conducts training for officials in these towns and ensure all of their equipment needs are met. We also conduct radiological exercises, including the semi-annual federally mandated graded exercise. These drills allow the state and EPZ towns see what is currently working and what is not working in their plans to better prepare for any possible events at Vermont Yankee. We will give a more complete picture of the RERP program in our next column.

Local fire departments, police, and rescue are the first line of defense for every community (and for the most part these are volunteers). They do an outstanding job protecting the public in times of need and are prepared for nearly everything. The state of Vermont and the Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security compliment that mission before, during, and after an event to help those local responders save lives and property.

Joe Flynn is the security director for the Vermont Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security.