Archive for Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Officials move forward on crisis plan

March 8, 2006

About 20 Tonganoxie area officials gathered last Friday, starting the ball rolling toward development of a crisis response plan.

Mayor Dave Taylor initiated the meeting, out of concern that the city be prepared in case of an emergency.

"We need to know what's going on," he said, "so that no one is left out of the loop. That's our responsibility, as leaders of this community."

Friday's meeting included firefighters, police officers, city officials, a representative of the local ministerial alliance, as well as public and private school officials.

The group agreed to meet again -- most likely on the first Friday of each month -- to work on a plan. It's also possible the group would test the plan in desktop exercises, as well as citywide exercises.

While Taylor believes the city's police and firefighters are prepared for a crisis, he's more concerned that other officials in the city know what to do in case of an emergency. And he wants everyone to work together -- whether it's public and private schools or cities in two different counties.

"The way this works," he said, "is if there are no boundaries."

Velda Roberts, city council president, agreed.

"There needs to be a disaster plan completed that pulls it all together," she said.

School Supt. Richard Erickson said the district would have a crisis drill on April 26, and he hopes to start having them several times a year. In addition, the district has an agreement with Family First Alert, a company that sends messages to all parents, in case of an emergency.

"The wheels are in place to quickly -- within 30 minutes to an hour's time -- to get the information out to our parents."

Erickson said Friday's meeting made him realize that the district doesn't have a second-in-command, in case the superintendent is out of town.

"I really haven't given a lot of thought to, if I'm gone, who's in charge," he said.

The mayor said communication is key -- both before and during an emergency. He said the response in New Orleans six months ago to Hurricane Katrina underscored how devastating lack of communication can be.

"I am concerned about it," he said. "I really am. I don't want what happened down there to happen to our people."

Tonganoxie area resident Keith Yoder, who is Kansas City regional coordinator for Kansas Homeland Security, said he believes the city should coordinate with the county's emergency management director to develop a Tonganoxie emergency operations plan.

"This is a great first step, getting everybody in the same room," he said.

And City Administrator Mike Yanez said that in addition to putting together an emergency operations resource manual, he wanted city staff, the mayor and council members to undergo emergency training. Police and firefighters already know what their role is. With a manual and training, others in the community will know how to react, Yanez said.

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