Behind the scenes: EMA … what does it do?

0
1158

By A.M. Sheehan

COUNTY — Deep in the bowels of the Oxford County Courthouse is a tiny cramped two-room office and a somewhat basic-looking radio room.

FACES OF EMA - Allyson Hill, left, and Teresa Glick
FACES OF EMA – Allyson Hill, left, and Teresa Glick

The basement space is nothing to write home about and yet it is the command-center in an emergency. These are the offices of the county’s Emergency Management Agency or EMA.

In fact, the efficacy of the agency has little to do with the office space and everything to do with the two women who are the brains and energy that make the EMA so good at what it does.

EMA Director Allyson Hill and Deputy Director Teresa Glick run the two-person office and in an emergency, they are the epi-center of coordinated response where ever they might actually be at any given moment.

“We are a coordinating agency, not a response agency,” explains Hill. “We coordinate with municipalities, first responder agencies, state and federal government on behalf of citizens but we rarely deal directly with the public.”

The only time in Hill’s recollection that EMA dealt directly with the public was in 2007 during the Patriot’s Day storm, which caused major flooding. In that case, EMA coordinated public meetings with FEMA representatives.

“We are behind [the scenes] for responders, in the background as a resource for those dealing with the situation.”

BROKEN - Flash flooding damage on South Rumford Road, Rumford – July 2, 2015.
BROKEN – Flash flooding damage on South Rumford Road, Rumford – July 2, 2015.

“Each town,” Glick adds, “is required to have Emergency Managers. Typically they are the first contact. Then, if need be, they will go to mutual aid and then, if necessary, to us.”

For example, in the recent Oxford Meadows fire, Skip Mowatt is the emergency director for the town of Paris (amongst others) and he contacted Hill and Glick asking for EMA help in coordinating responses, such as the Red Cross, a shelter, etc.

“All emergencies are local,” Hill stresses.

Glick describes the type of incidents that are considered emergencies as tropical storms (such as Irene), ice storms, severe summer storms (like those that might cause a tornado), flooding, wild fires, chemical spills, dam failures, train derailments, mass casualty incidents (or those that have the potential to be) such as large major fires, school bus crashes, active shooter situations, chemical and/or industrial accidents and power failures – either widespread affecting many or those affecting a highly populated place such as a hospital or nursing home.

There is no “victim formula” they explain, just when responders feel they need help.

The acronyms

EMA coordinates and is responsible for teams as well that are acronym-heavy.

IMAT – Incident Management Assistance Team, a group of a dozen highly trained volunteers incident command responders. In a large incident where help is needed forming a command system, IMAT helps.

For example, says Glick, a multi-day wildfire where IMAT might coordinate food, porta-potties, lighting, sleeping, fire departments for relief and accountability (tracking people and costs). Tracking costs is crucial, she says, for insurance, responsible party and federal reimbursement.

RRT-10 – Regional Response Team is a paid state team that responds in-county. This is the team that has hazmat technicians – the highest trained hazmat responders who can actually go in and fix and patch, she says.

OXCART – Oxford County Animal Response Team. This volunteer team is called out when an incident might affect a large number of people who have pets or large animal incidents such as flooding.

ARES – Amateur Radio Emergency Service, otherwise known as ham radio operators. This volunteer network is a county team with its own communications trailer.

“They have a vast network of repeaters and frequencies,” explains Glick, and when there is no cell service … .” She notes that during 9/11 it was ham radio operators who handled all responder communication at Ground Zero … for weeks. Both Hill and Glick are licensed ham radio operators.

Members of Rumford’s Regional Response Team #10 and the Androscoggin COBRA Team participate in a hazardous materials exercise at Catalyst Paper in Rumford – June 2, 2012.
PREPARED – Members of Rumford’s Regional Response Team #10 and the Androscoggin COBRA Team participate in a hazardous materials exercise at Catalyst Paper in Rumford – June 2, 2012.

LEPC – Local Emergency Planning Committee. This is a federally required county committee of about 20 people representing first responders, hospitals, hazmat facility people and state environmental protection representatives. Its function is to oversee hazardous materials reporting and facilities.

“In 1986, a law [came into effect] mandating the facilities that handled hazardous materials let the public know the type of material they have on-site,” Hill explains. “This way everyone responding knows what they are dealing with and citizens know what they live next to.”

Glick notes, “We are one of two counties [in the state] that has its own group of hazmat instructors.”

“Teresa has created a state-approved training program for the county,” Hill adds, noting that Glick herself is a certified trainer. “She makes hazmat fun!”

Hill goes on to say that Region 9 School of Technology’s high school firefighting students have been training in hazmat for the past four years. She also notes that any facility handling hazardous materials pays a fee to the state based on the amount of chemicals they have and those fees come back down to the LEPC to pay for training.

Glick says, “We have also created partnerships with facilities that have extremely hazardous substances (EHS) such as Rumford Power. We have more than 100 reporting facilities and of those, 16 are EHS.”

Training

All this is just a portion of what EMA does.

“A big piece of what we do,” says Glick, “is training and exercises. These are usually grant-funded.”

These might include drills like a school bus rollover, such as the one in Woodstock a while ago.

Or active shooter, wildfire, shelter set-up and hazmat drills.

In the past EMA has partnered with the state and the National Guard for a “Vigilant Guard” exercise involving a cyber attack (where dispatch computers were hacked and how to circumvent the loss of those). It has also set up an Emergency Operations Center for a building collapse drill in Cumberland County.

“Sometimes,” says Hill, “we might get a request from another county to go help, such as sending our IMAT team.”

DRY RUN - First responders participate in the Woodstock Bus Rollover exercise on October 13, 2012.
DRY RUN – First responders participate in the Woodstock Bus Rollover exercise on October 13, 2012.

And three years ago, EMA began to present a county Emergency Management Award to local emergency managers. The first year the award was given to Bonnie Seames – Norway. The second year, Jay Bernard – Dixfield – and last year to Roger Berube – Porter.

This year, in addition to Hill and Glick, a contracted school planner has been added to the tiny staff. Rebecca Secrest is the part-time school planner and her job is to develop plans with each school, as well as a district-wide plan. She works with the school’s designated emergency team to create a state Department of Education-required plan and exercises for such things as a lockdown, active shooter and bomb threat. They have created teacher flip charts for each incident or hazard type that hangs in every classroom.

She also facilitates tabletop exercises with each school team.

“We also assist and oversee individual town plans, dam plans and hazmat facility plans,” the duo adds, “as well as a county emergency operations plan that integrates the LEPC plan.”

And there’s more.

“We also have to have a Hazard Mitigation Plan,” Hill continues, “that we are required [by the feds] to update every five years. Every town in the county participates in creating the plan.”

The HMP is tied to disaster declarations made by the governor.

“Each town,” Hill explains, “has its own section in the plan where it lists projects such as roads that need work [to withstand a potential flood]. If a town won’t participate, it won’t get those [federal] funds that follow a disaster.”

She explains that – using flooding as an example – “each town knows where potential problems are such as a culvert size that might need to change because a driveway was added causing more runoff there.”

And then there is the annual Homeland Security Grant program.

“We get about $80,000 for the entire county,” says Hill, “and we are the facilitator for the grant applications [from various agencies as well as their own].

“The agencies [law enforcement, fire, EMS, school districts and county dispatch] ask for grant dollars for training, exercises, planning and equipment. We have to decide how to help them get what they need. Last year we got $274,000 in requests for $80,000. After we finish the requests go to the state to determine what is awarded.”

Hill and Glick also maintain the EMA website geared toward responders, as well as a Facebook page with information for the public.

“We have proven we can put out messages and get to people,” says Glick.

Hill and Glick

Although they may sound like a popular comedy act, they are far from it.

Glick has a degree in meteorology.

“I wanted to get into research but then I did an internship and realized I didn’t want to do research,” Glick laughs. “I had a conversation with Dad and we found EMA was where all my interests intersected.”

Glick has training as a hazmat tech instructor, incident command, ham radio and is a fourth generation firefighter. Dad is Geff Inman, former fire chief and current deputy director of Oxford County Regional Communications Center.

Hill has a more colorful and unusual background. An Oxford Hills High School grad, she worked at a food co-op in Brattleboro, Vt., for 13 years, managed a warehouse and was the volunteer coordinator for the American Tour del Sol – a 10-day race of efficiency, hybrid, electric, solar and alternatively powered vehicles.

“I was basically hired [by the previous EMA director Scott Parker] as an administrative assistant, because of my recruitment and management experiences and because I have a degree in accounting,” she says.

When Parker left in 2011 Hill filled in as interim director from May through February and was appointed director by county commissioners in February.

Cost

So how much does the EMA cost to run?

Aside from salaries – Hill’s and Glick’s – the duo has operated the agency on an annual budget of $15,000 a year until this year when they added the school planner to their expenses. Now the office operates on $45,000 a year.

“But,” Hill quickly points out, “we are reimbursed 50 percent of that by the feds through the Emergency Management Performance Grant so our total actual cost [to the county] is $30,000 annually.”

They give a lot of bang for so few bucks.

asheehan@sunmediagroup.net