Leaders from across Miss-Lou discuss emergency plan

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 19, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; Representatives from different agencies across the city and county agreed Tuesday they should work together when it comes to emergency preparedness. How they would go about that was the question at a discussion led by United Way-sponsored company, IEM.

About 35 people from city and county agencies as well as nonprofit groups participated in the five-hour meeting.

The group discussed problems during last year&8217;s hurricane response and the specifics of organizational structure.

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Adams County Red Cross Director John Goodrich said he thought the discussion got off track from its intended goal when people started discussing last year&8217;s response.

&8220;I think it came off more as an issue symposium than a tabletop exercise,&8221; he said.

Representatives from the company discussed improvements that could be made, including improved communication and command structure.

Billy Poche, an exercise planner with IEM, reviewed the basics of federal standardized processes and protocols.

He also explained how an incident command system would keep the chain of command among different agencies organized in a disaster.

IEM led a simulated disaster exercise, as well.

Adams County Civil Defense Director George Souderes said he had received the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency guidelines for which he had been waiting to revise the county plan.

He said he would take a couple weeks to look over the new guidelines, after which he would meet with department heads.

Souderes said he thought that after the discussion participants had a better idea of where they fit into emergency response.

&8220;They understand they&8217;ve got a role in it,&8221; Souderes said. &8220;They understand their agency has got a responsibility. The more people we&8217;ve got working for us, the better the job is going to go.&8221;

Revising the county plan would take a while, Souderes said.

&8220;It took six to eight months to revise the last plan,&8221; he said. &8220;A month, two months, that&8217;s not realistic.&8221;

Adams County Supervisor Henry Watts said he thought if Souderes wanted the plan to be updated, it would be.

&8220;He&8217;s got plenty of astute people to help him,&8221; Watts said. &8220;It&8217;s up to him. The ingredients are there, the recommendations from IEM are there.&8221;

Kathy Stephens, director of the United Way of the Greater Miss-Lou, which funded the study of the county&8217;s plan and the discussion, said she thought Tuesday&8217;s meeting was a start.

&8220;It&8217;s yet another step in working together in a plan for disaster,&8221; Stephens said. &8220;We identified some things we need to think about.&8221;

Natchez Mayor Phillip West said he learned a lot from the discussion.

&8220;We do have a number of shortcomings, a number of voids that need to be filled,&8221; West said. &8220;Now we know more about what role each other plays. Everybody recognized we need to be more organized, to be on the same page and not duplicate our efforts.&8221;

Most law enforcement and fire officials who attended were already familiar with the response protocols, so there was little new information for them.

&8220;Emergency agencies, we&8217;re familiar with how those systems operate,&8221; Natchez Fire Chief Paul Johnson said.

Johnson said he thought the lines of communication and cooperation between agencies were the benefits of the meeting.

Natchez Police Chief Mike Mullins said he thought it was important the agencies not familiar with the response systems learned the basics at the meeting.

Goodrich said he was glad the Red Cross could answer questions at the meeting and that the MEMA regulations would be put into place.

&8220;Now we can get to work and do our local plan,&8221; Goodrich said. &8220;Out of anything said today, that was the most important.&8221;

Martha Mitternight, director of the Natchez office of Catholic Charities, said she learned about the responsibilities each group has.

Because her job at the nonprofit focuses on getting services to people, she said she did not know who did what during a disaster.

&8220;It was a good opportunity to hear, at least in general terms, the full scope of emergency management needs,&8221; Mitternight said. &8220;It was a good learning experience for me in that respect.&8221;