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Disaster plan is countywide effort
by Jason Collins
Dec 21, 2012 | 1378 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
File photo
In September, the call was made from Alice to Beeville. Help was needed. Beeville firefighters responded in the spirit of teamwork and sent the city’s ladder truck to help extinguish a downtown blaze. It is this network of support, Robert Bridge said, that is critical to keeping small communities safe when a disaster is out of their control.
File photo In September, the call was made from Alice to Beeville. Help was needed. Beeville firefighters responded in the spirit of teamwork and sent the city’s ladder truck to help extinguish a downtown blaze. It is this network of support, Robert Bridge said, that is critical to keeping small communities safe when a disaster is out of their control.
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BEEVILLE — Is Bee County prepared for a disaster of the scale that occurred in Newtown, Conn?

As an emergency management coordinator for both the city and county, Robert Bridge has to think about that question and the answer.

But for him, a father, its answer is not as clearcut as it would seem.

“I can assure you, no matter how experienced you are as a firefighter or as a policeman or medical technician, I don’t believe anybody is prepared for that kind of situation,” he said.

“To answer your question from a technical perspective, yes, it would fall into our realm of emergency operations center, because it would require some coordination.”

That is his realm.

Organizing and coordinating disaster preparation, that’s his job.

“I don’t have all the answers,” he said. “But I know people who do.”

Those people are the mayor, county judge, hospital staff, business owners, school staff, police officers, deputies, paramedics, mental health professionals and many more.

Next year, members of the local emergency planning committee will start meeting again to plan for the disasters that could occur here.

Each of the members, way too many to list, have their expertise from medical to payroll and logistics.

Sitting on his desk is large white binder. Inside of it are pages upon pages of instructions.

Bridge calls this the foundation of their emergency plan.

But, it is not an instruction manual for every emergency.

“There is no CD in there that says ‘Hurricane,’” he said. “We take an all-hazards approach.

“You can apply that plan to any scenario.

“Whether it is a Newtown, Conn., situation or a Hurricane Sandy.

“Are there situations that overwhelm you even though you planned to the best of your abilities? Sure.

“Who could plan for a situation like Newtown?

“The police department will tell you that they participate in training that involves this situation. But again, who could fathom?

“Hopefully, the foundation is solid, and you will be able to handle any situation that comes down the road simply because you have a good foundation to begin with.”

That foundation starts with the locals — the volunteer firefighters, deputies, police, EMS and residents.

Cooperation among the agencies is the key.

“From information I have received, there is a lot of cooperation,” said Bridge, who was just recently hired as emergency management coordinator, replacing David Morgan who retired. “I have not participated in any situation yet, because I have not been here long enough.”

However, from what he has seen and heard, all the departments are willing to lend a hand when a needed.

“The police department helps out the sheriff’s office,” he said. “The sheriff’s office helps out the police department. The troopers help out both of them, depending on where the need is.

“When it comes to law enforcement, there is not a huge contingency, so they have learned to work together and work it out.

“In a small community, we have to, because there are not a whole lot of them around.”

Like law enforcement, the fire departments are there for their countrymen when needed.

“I know the fire department sent a piece of equipment all the way to Alice,” he said.

That piece of equipment was Beeville’s new ladder truck, which was needed to battle a large blaze in downtown Alice.

While it is important to have a network of people ready to help, sometimes disasters can overwhelm a community.

And that is when the connections Bridge has made will come in handy.

First level — regional. If more help is needed, then the call goes out for district-wide help. Finally, it is a call for statewide assistance.

In all of this, he must also remember that the people, who may be in harm’s way, must be notified.

And that is where the city and county’s Blackboard Connect system will come into play.

Implemented a couple of years ago, this system is much like the reverse 911 system used in Newtown to notify parents of the shooting.

However, Blackboard has an advantage. It can send information to home phones, business phones, cell phones, text messages and even by emails.

“It was originally developed to notify residents of the community of an emergency,” Bridge said.

The system has grown.

And it is has expanded.

The phone system can be used to notify of whether emergencies and dangers specific to an area or countywide.

So, again, is Bee County ready for an emergency?

There is a plan. The people are trained and always undergoing more.

But, no. Neither the county nor the city is prepared for what occurred in Newtown.

No one could ever be. But there is a plan in place to handle the needs that arise.

Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at editor@mySouTex.com.
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