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Chairman's Corner: Coordination and cooperation are key

September 13, 2017 - 11:33 am Updated: September 13, 2017 - 11:54 am

First, I would like to thank Columbia-Greene Media and Publisher Mark Vinciguerra for this opportunity to provide insights into county operations and the impact they have on county residents.

Emergency preparedness and the response to Hurricane Harvey, and again with Hurricane Irma, has been in the news day-in, day-out lately, and this seems to be a good time to remind county residents of the various activities the county and its agencies undertake to address local emergencies. After all, as we all know, it’s a matter of when, not if, the next event strikes. Regardless of the nature of that event, Columbia County is prepared.

Coordination and cooperation are key bywords in addressing any emergency, and perhaps the primary tool in the county toolbox is the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). The EOC is activated upon the arrival, or the impending arrival, of an emergency. It remains open until its work is complete, with all appropriate agencies onboard at the facility throughout the time of the crisis. At the end of the day, all emergency response is local, and county agencies and local fire departments, rescue squads and the like know best where their resources are located, and how they might best be deployed.

For instance, let’s revisit the major ice storm of December 2008 that affected a major portion of the county (although the EOC will be activated if even a portion of the county is affected by an event). Representatives from county agencies staffing the EOC during the ice storm came from the attorney’s office, board of supervisors, 911, emergency management, emergency medical services, facilities, fire coordinator, health department, highway department, office for the aging, sheriff’s office, social services, solid waste, and treasurer’s office. Outside agencies on hand were the American Red Cross, Central Hudson, Hudson Police Department, Fairpoint Communications, Germantown Telephone, Greene County highway department, National Grid, NYS DOT, NYSEG, NYS troopers, and the State Emergency Management Office.

Because of its widespread nature, the 2008 ice storm called for a major response, although, as in all emergencies, agency staffing at the EOC expands and contracts depending on what the situation demands. But the important message to take from the EOC’s existence is that it serves a dual purpose: 1) As a contact point for county residents during the emergency, and 2) a central point for those with access to, and knowledge of, the resources potentially available to address the emergency.

The concept of a centralized emergency operations center was borne out of 9/11. Prior to that, emergency response teams and resources tended to be more scattered, less able to quickly, efficiently communicate needs and, in fact, where the needs actually were. These days, with the onsite presence at the EOC, once an issue is identified, mitigation can begin as soon as practicably possible.

Next time, I will drill down into some of the specific areas handled by various county agencies, as well as what they do to maintain constant preparedness.

To be continued …