QA: McKinney plans for emergency committees

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 17, 2007

How has the transition been going from a part-time position to full-time EMA director?

It&8217;s been good, but it&8217;s still ongoing. With the position being part time, we had acknowledged that there were certain parts of the program that were weren&8217;t going to be able to manage. So we&8217;re kind of getting into those parts of the EMA program. It&8217;s been slow because it&8217;s a matter of catch-up and new things on top of that. So it&8217;s good; it&8217;s about as is expected.

What are some of the areas of the EMA program that will be looking into for the future?

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One of the first things we&8217;re going to do, something we&8217;ve kind of let go of, is the Local Emergency Planning Committee. That committee has not met in the three years that I&8217;ve been here.

I&8217;ve been in contact with some other counties and gone to other counties to sit in on theirs and kind of learn some of the new information that needs to come out. To start with, LEPCs were strictly for hazardous materials and most counties are changing the LEPCs to all hazards, which means you could have subcommittees off of it that can look into those things.

One of the reasons for that is the big push with the Department of Public Health for the awareness of pandemic flu. When we have our first meeting that is probably going to be one of our topics &8212; pandemic flu and the preparedness of it. And as you know, that has absolutely nothing to do with hazardous materials.

It&8217;s kind of a new format that I&8217;m having to learn. We have members of the LEPC identified; they are responders, community leaders and business leaders.

What do see as being some of the challenges for the EMA in the future?

As with anything, the public doesn&8217;t believe it will happen until it happens. The biggest challenge will be to convince people that we are vulnerable and we are at risk. We are at risk, to some extent, for terrorism. We&8217;re definitely going to be vulnerable for pandemic flu.

They&8217;re projecting that 10 percent of the population is going to be affected, which would be 2,000 people in Marengo County. So it really is going to be about convincing people of the seriousness of this information. We don&8217;t think about it in a rural area. We think, &8220;not in my backyard.&8221; It won&8217;t happen to me.

With pandemic flu, all we need is for one family to ride to Birmingham or Atlanta and bring it back. It&8217;s so simple for it to happen. But for people to realize it, that&8217;s going to be difficult.

Are there any new program or equipment that you want to look into getting for Marengo County?

One of the tings we had discussed in the county commission meetings is the community notification system. We looked into sirens, but I don&8217;t believe that sirens work. They are not the future; they are the past.

The one-call system, where we can notify people by e-mail, by cell phone, by home phone, is going to be the way to go. That&8217;s one of the things that I want to look at. We will have a round of homeland security funds this year, we don&8217;t know what we&8217;ll get, or what the requirements will be, because there are certain requirements you have to spend that money on. But that is one of the things I am going to ask for and look into.

There are different ways of doing it, such as the 911 system here doing a reverse call-out instead of people calling in. Then there are companies that will maintain the database with all the phone numbers and that kind of information. There are a number of ways to do it, and I&8217;m doing some research on that to see what the best system for the county would be. Getting away from warning sirens is best. Baldwin County doesn&8217;t even have sirens, and Mobile County does but they don&8217;t use them for tornadoes or thunderstorms, they&8217;re strictly for evacuation.

People have a misconception about weather sirens, and they&8217;re just not effective. With this system, we could make 10,000 calls in three minutes. We&8217;re in this new age of technology.

How do you feel about the people and the system in place for Marengo County emergency management?

Since Hurricane Ivan, it&8217;s gotten better. I think that people realized when Ivan hit, as bad as it was, that we do have needs.

We&8217;re fortunate here in Marengo County, we have a local chapter of the American Red Cross. They provide great assistance. We work with Red Cross, Department of Human Resources, West Alabama Mental Health, West Alabama Public Transportation, churches, the hospital. A lot of people came together then, and we&8217;ve built on that relationship with some of the new issues that have come about, such as pandemic flu.

We&8217;re meeting with the health department; we&8217;re meeting with the hospital. And having gotten to know each other during the storm, it&8217;s an ongoing relationship. I think we work together well here in the county.

In Marengo County, we are very fortunate because we have the resources. Other surrounding counties have a very difficult time staffing shelters and we&8217;ve never had that problem. Red Cross handles our shelters, and they have people trained. DHR will offer support, too. We&8217;re very fortunate to have the agencies here that we do.

How has EMA changed since you have been a part of the program?

In the past, EMA was emergency planning, preparing for thunderstorms, tornadoes and watching the weather. Since 9-11, it has completely changed.

There are so many sections of it with Homeland Security, bio-terrorism. We&8217;re still having to deal with hazardous materials, tornadoes and weather systems. But now we&8217;re dealing with all this stuff that we don&8217;t know about.

I guess that&8217;s what has gotten so time consuming. You&8217;re still doing the same job you were doing, and now you&8217;ve got other issues that have come out that you can&8217;t even get guidance on, like the pandemic flu. There&8217;s not a vaccine, so they don&8217;t know what to do until it happens. That&8217;s kind of hard to grasp. It&8217;s like planning for something that you don&8217;t know what it is. That&8217;s learning part of it, is the new stuff.

We&8217;re very fortunate for the county commission to realize the need and for the state legislature to approve the funding for this full time position. We have a lot of community support and a lot of public support.