The agency’s director, Jonathan Gaddy, is meeting with city and community leaders throughout the county to discuss an extensive revision to the Emergency Operation Plan – a complete rewrite of the organizational structure for emergency responders dealing with disasters like the tornados that struck the county in April 2011.
“We started working on this revision at about 10:30 p.m. on April 27, 2011 and we really haven’t let up since,” Gaddy said. “You’re always in a constant state of revision. It’s not something you can work on and put on a shelf.”
On Monday, Gaddy met with leaders in Ohatchee to take a look at the draft of the agency’s new plan. He said he will continue to meet with elected officials, law enforcement, firefighters and other responders over the next several weeks in order to put together a final version.
The most important aspect of the plan isn’t a how-to-instructional guide on what to do during a crisis, Gaddy said, but ways organizations need to work together to pick up the pieces after disaster strikes.
“This doesn’t tell you how to put out a fire,” Gaddy said. “These are highly trained responders. This is just high-level organizational guidance.”
Jon Garlick, mental health officer with the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office, said the biggest lessons learned from the 2011 tornadoes were how to prepare for the confusion following a mass disaster. Garlick, who has been heavily involved in the rewrite, said that after the tornadoes, he organized an incident management team that helps to coordinate information, including helping get the proper paperwork filed, making sure multiple agencies are on the same page and coordinating help efforts from various outlets.
“The incident management team starts after the crisis stage,” Garlick said. “During the crisis you’re out trying to save lives, but we’re talking 12 hours out, you need some organization and consistency.”
For Ohatchee Mayor Steve Baswell, the 2011 tornado presented organizational and coordination problems that crept up long after the tornadoes blew through the town.
“We were getting so many donated clothes and volunteers, we didn’t know what to do with everything,” Baswell said. “We weren’t prepared to deal with the amount of help coming in.”
Preparing for disaster beforehand is also an important part of the rewrite, Gaddy said. Specifically, having designated command posts and staging areas to gather resources and coordinate volunteer help to set up immediately in case of emergency.
In places like Anniston, resources are more plentiful, Gaddy said. It’s when disasters happen in the more rural areas of Calhoun County that setting up command centers and support facilities becomes more problematic.
“That’s when churches and volunteer organizations become very important,” Gaddy said. “Those are really part of the infrastructure of the community.”
Gaddy said input from those organizations was valuable when working on a new Emergency Operations Plan, but the agency is still looking for more input from groups who wish to be involved – all part of the process of making sure the plan is a “living document.” And the more input and coordination behind the plan, the more effective it’ll be when an emergency happens.
“The plan is worthless, but the planning is everything” Gaddy said. “A document on a shelf isn’t going to save somebody’s life. Highly trained individuals are going to save your life, but it’s this planning process that prepares us to do that.”
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.