The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Iron County officials work to develop mass care plan


HURLEY — Officials from a number of Iron County agencies met Friday at the Iron County Memorial Building to participate in a table-top exercise to develop a mass care plan for the county.

The plan would be used in instances where the county needed to open up a temporary shelter, Iron County Health Officer Zona Wick explained, and could cover a range of emergencies including ice storms, tornadoes or fires.

The creation of a care plan is required by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the state, which provides funding to the county to develop the plan.

The specific scenario Friday involved a winter storm that knocked out power in the Mercer area and blocked area roads.

“The idea the was, what are they going to have to do to open up a shelter? Everybody says ‘great idea to open up a shelter,’ but it’s all the ancillary things that go along with opening up a shelter — how do they get by the roads, who pays, where’s the liability, how do we communicate,” said Rob Rude, a former director of response and recovery for Wisconsin Emergency Management, who facilitated the discussion. “You can use just about any scenario that you want and drive the responses.”

Among those participating in the table-top exercise were members of the Iron County Sheriff’s Department, Health Department and Department of Human Services, Iron County Emergency Management Director Stacy Ofstad, as well as various other state and local officials.

The group discussed a number of things that would need to be handled during an emergency, such as establishing an emergency operations center separate from the disaster area and whether its better for officials to report to the operations center or directly to the emergency, clarifying who would adopt the role of public information officer to distribute news and how to coordinate with private companies such as utility companies.

Officials also discussed the fact only a small portion of affected residents will go to the shelter and how to deal with those who stay behind as well as who accepts liability for the actions of volunteers and contractors helping as responders. They also discussed how to communicate if cell phone service was knocked out and detailed a number of options including the county’s radio system, ham radio operators to using the National Weather Service broadcast alert system.

A consensus was reached that the various memorandums of understanding with outside organizations needed to be updated to ensure the county or town wouldn’t be held liable for any mistakes by contractors.

It was also stressed that town or county officials needed to be brought into the process to potentially issue an emergency declaration that could allow costs incurred during the response to be reimbursed by the state or federal government.

The exercise also showed that many of the agencies had already completed internal plans and coordination between the departments and agencies was the next logical step.

Officials were pleased with the results of the exercise and agreed it was a good beginning point for the county to move forward from.

“I was impressed with the level of communication between the agencies and between the representatives of the agencies. One of the things about a table- top, particularly when you’re dealing with a draft plan, is to be able to just have that level of communication, exchange that information. I saw a lot of that today,” said Rude. “I could see the light bulbs going off and people are going ‘hmm, I didn’t realize that.’ I think they’ve got a great start.”

Wick also agreed the communication was key to developing a successful plan.

“The biggest strength that I see is that all the partners are at the table. So then you take this draft plan and you say ‘law enforcement has their piece, and the health department (has their piece), let’s take these put these pieces together and get a whole county-wide plan’ because that’s what we’ve been lacking,” Wick said.” What we are going to do is get all these plans together and put them on a flash drive and give everybody a copy of that so they have all these plans with all these call trees on them and everybody has all the resources.”

Ofstad echoed Wick’s belief that the exercise was beneficial as it allowed everyone to get on the same page.

“Anytime you get all the players to the table its always a good thing,” Ofstad said, “There’s always room to learn.”

The deadline to complete the plan is June 30, according to Wick.


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