Procedures detailed after three years of tweaking
After three years in the works, a plan for handling emergency situations and minimizing the impacts a crisis would have on the county’s population was approved at a regular meeting of the Board of County Commissioners August 19.
The Gunnison County Emergency Operations Plan outlines how the county will manage and coordinate a response to an emergency or disaster locally.
“All the county departments have their policies and procedures for their day-to-day operation. What the Emergency Operations Plan does is reinforce those day-to-day operations, but it also provides the framework to manage really large incidents,” says Gunnison County emergency manager Scott Morrill.
The Colorado Disaster Emergency Act of 1992 requires that each of the state’s counties develop such a plan and outlines the process for doing so. As a way to ensure consistency throughout all of the plans, the state provides templates to the counties to be used in the development of individual plans.
“Based on a couple of different versions of that template, we kind of built our own [plan] to suit the needs of Gunnison County,” says Morrill. In Gunnison County’s case, an emergency could be a flood, fire or pandemic flu that requires immediate action from the government.
“The hazards are real similar amongst western Colorado counties—you know, wildfires, mass casualty incidents… Those are pretty consistent. Where the big differences lie is in the resources we have to use on those incidents,” says Morrill.
To give emergency managers direction toward the resources the county has at its disposal, the plan lists Emergency Support Functions, like transportation, communication, fire fighting and hazardous materials response and others. The mobilization of these resources can be ordered as soon as the county manager has declared an emergency.
Immediately after declaring an emergency, the manager is required to begin attempts at convening a quorum of county commissioners “by any reasonable methods” within 24 hours or as soon as possible. A quorum is two commissioners.
If a quorum cannot be assembled, an emergency declaration could stand for seven days without the consent of the commissioners. Once an emergency is identified, every county staff member can be used in the response and funds become available to the Emergency Support Functions identified in the plan.
One provision of the plan is that it does not supplant the emergency operation plans already in place for entities within the county. The plan recognizes the emergency operations plans for the towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte, the Gunnison/Crested Butte Regional Airport, the city of Gunnison, RE1J School District and Western State College.
“With all of the plans of this type, this emergency plan is a tool and should be used as a guide. It is not possible to cover every possible situation that may arise and as such, this plan should be viewed with that in mind,” the plan says.
If the resources that Gunnison County can commit to an emergency situation are exhausted, Morrill says the emergency services in the county have mutual aid agreements with neighboring counties.
“The mutual aid agreements are left to the individual agencies like fire and sheriff. By and large I’m virtually certain that the agencies all have those [Memorandums of Understanding] in place between the surrounding counties,” he says.
The county’s emergency management system was initiated by a county resolution passed in 1988.
In May of this year, the county passed a final resolution that provided the last piece needed to complete the plan, by detailing the layers of management that would be engaged in an emergency or disaster and the procedures that those managers would follow.
The County’s Emergency Management Department was waiting to adopt the completed Emergency Operations Plan until they had that final resolution in place to make sure that the two documents would mesh and that the plan itself had clarity about operational procedures and an order of succession, says Morrill.