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Emergency manual is ready

by Christy Chalmers

Fires, floods, volcanoes and earthquakes don’t come with operating instructions.

So Douglas County created a manual that has proven useful in managing most of the natural disasters that come its way.

The 199-page manual,which was most recently updated in November, lists a variety of scenarios and responses. There are organizational charts showing chains of command, lists of agencies that provide primary responses and their responsibilities, and logistical answers like where to establish command posts and shelters.

The manual, combined with ongoing training exercises, has allowed a reasoned and rational response to recent disasters, such as the floods of 1996 and ’97.

“It’s a working document,” said Claudette Springmeyer, the county comptroller and a member of the county’s emergency management team. “When you have an incident like the Flood of 1997, you can go back and fine-tune the sections as you find out what could be done better.”

The manual will probably be consulted again soon as county officials prepare for the new year. Record crowds are expected in the Stateline area, which traditionally draws revelers, and no one knows exactly what the switch from 1999 to 2000 will mean.

Earlier in the year, Springmeyer and Emergency Management Director Dick Mirgon announced that county computer and emergency systems were expected to make a smooth transition. Even so, department heads and key personnel have been asked to be “available” on New Year’s Eve and Day.

“I don’t think there’s any way of knowing that all the problems have been addressed, but any that we are aware of have been addressed,” said Springmeyer. “Some of my staff will probably be in county facilities, checking them out, and some will be in the information systems department. They’re not going to be just waiting to get a call. They will be verifying how things are going as they unfold.”

If things go wrong, the emergency manual will be handy.

The manual lists three emergency response levels. The first is for normal, day-to-day conditions, which occur when an incident can be handled by the first responding agencies and doesn’t require a mass evacuation or threaten life and property. Examples are fire and paramedic calls.

The second, a limited emergency condition, is defined as a situation that poses a potential hazard to life or property and may require limited evacuation or resources beyond the normal capabilities of the first responding agencies. In those situations, the emergency operations director is notified. Hazardous material spills would be an example.

A level three response occurs with incidents that involve a severe hazard or a large area, posing an extreme threat to life or property and likely requiring a large scale evacuation or extraordinary resources and measures. The New Year’s 1997 flood and the March 1996 flood are examples of full emergency conditions.

In a level three situation, most county offices focus on providing support for emergency responses. Roles have been outlined for each department that allow their skills to be applied to the emergency.

The expected New Year’s celebration in Stateline has dominated county planning efforts. The county administration building in Stateline, which includes an adult jail, juvenile detention center and office space for the sheriff, district attorney and other county offices, annually becomes a command post for the law enforcement agencies that monitor New Year’s revelers.

County commissioners have already approved $10,000 for contingency items such as blankets, flashlights and emergency supplies – not because an emergency is expected, but just in case the items are needed.

Even as the sheriff plans for more than 60,000 celebrants, other county services may not be in much demand. Clerk-Treasurer Barbara Reed said she originally planned to expand the marriage license clerk’s hours, but several South Shore wedding chapel operators have reported reservations are down.

“They’re telling me bookings are down and they’re about half of what they are normally,” said Reed. “One is going to close up for the evening. Our employee will stay until 11 and decide whether to stay later or close the office.”

In 1998, when New Year’s Eve fell on Thursday and New Year’s Day hit Friday, the county sold 61 licenses. In 1997, 40 licenses were sold.

Normally, the wedding license office is open until 11 p.m. Fridays, with a 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. schedule Saturdays, Sundays and on holidays. Reed suspects a rush may happen Jan. 1 among couples wishing to get the first license issued in the years beginning with a “2.” The license numbering sequence will start over, with No. 1. As of Wednesday, lake license numbers were in the 186,850 range.

Reed said she doubts the bustle of the sheriff’s New Year’s preparations will impact marriage plans.

“If they’re going to get a license, I think they will get it earlier rather than later in the day,” she said. “I don’t anticipate it having any greater impact.”