Pittsburg County, Okla., Updates its Disaster Response Plan

Pittsburg County has an updated plan for a coordinated response to various disasters, such as earthquakes or wildfires. Included in the plan are provisions for the Swiftwater Rescue Team and Search and Rescue Team.

by James Beaty, McAlester News-Capital, Okla. / October 22, 2019

(TNS) — Earthquake. Wildfire. Tornado. Flood. Active shooter.

Pittsburg County has an updated plan for a coordinated response to any of those emergencies, along with other disasters.

County commissioners approved the updated Emergency Operations Plan during their regular Monday meeting at the Pittsburg County Courthouse. Once County Clerk Hope Trammell placed the county seal on the plan, the 234-page document became the current guide for the Emergency Operations Center in Pittsburg County.

Included in the updated plan are provisions for the Swiftwater Rescue Team and Search and Rescue Team, both of which consist of personnel from multiple agencies in the county.

“We have 25 members in the Swiftwater Rescue Team and 30 in the Search and Rescue Team,” said McAlester/Pittsburg County Office of Emergency Management Director Kevin Enloe. Procedures had to be put in place regarding the two teams.

“We had to incorporate them into our policies,” Enloe said.

The updated EOP provides a guide for how personnel from a number of agencies and other facilities respond to different disasters.

“It’s an Emergency Operation Plan for if we have any type of event — from natural disasters to manmade disasters,” Enloe said. “Any type of manmade or natural disaster we have a plan in place.”

With heavy storms forecast to strike the area overnight Sunday through the early-morning darkness Monday, members of the Pittsburg County Office of Emergency Management were on storm-watch much of the night.

“We activated the Emergency Operations Center at 6 p.m. Sunday on storm watch and stayed until 3:30 a.m.,” Enloe said. Some damage occurred, mostly in the northern part of the county, with the Indianola, Canadian, Crowder and Quinton areas getting the brunt of the storm, he said.

“There were a few trees damaged and power outages across Scipio,” said Enloe.

Have earthquakes always been a part of the Emergency Operation Plan?

“We’ve had earthquakes in our plan for about 10 years,” Enloe said. “We’ve beefed it up over the past four or five years because of the frequency of earthquakes around the state.”

Most of the earthquake response is geared toward damage to infrastructure, such as bridges, Enloe said. If the severity of the occasional earthquake that can be felt in Pittsburg County increases, then the response to major building damage would have to be included in the plan.

“I hope we never see that,” said Enloe.

A lot of effort went into developing the countywide Emergency Operation Plan.

“We’ve been working on it throughout the year,” said Enloe.

Some of the participants in developing the Emergency Operation Plan included the state Office of Emergency Management, fire departments throughout the county, police departments and municipalities, he said.

“Any or all of these agencies could be involved,” Enloe said.

Also included in the EOP are the Pittsburg County Health Department and McAlester Regional Health Center and schools throughout the county.

“We have a plan in place where we deal with the entire response,” Enloe said. “It’s all-encompassing.”

Included in the plan are 15 of what Enloe calls Emergency Support Features, or ESFs.

“They range from law enforcement to fire departments, search and rescue and water rescue,” Enloe said. “They all have to be plugged-in on where to go.”

“Anytime we activate the EOC Center we notify all 15,” he said.

The Emergency Operations Center has been fully activated twice this year, once in association with the forecast of severe storms in Pittsburg County last April, which failed to materialize to the extent that weather forecasters had predicted. It was activated again during the severe storm that struck McAlester last May. During the activations, emergency responders set up what Enloe calls an Incident Emergency Plan.

Referring to the first activation, Enloe said “It was a pre-plan for the event that was forecast, how each would respond.” During the activation, individuals from multiple agencies, municipalities and other facilities gathered at the Pittsburg County Office of Emergency Management.

“You plan for the worst,” Enloe said. “If it happens, everybody has an IEP.”

During that first activation, storms did not strike Pittsburg County to the extent that had been forecast. When the May activation occurred, McAlester did have storm damage, including downed trees, at least one crumpled automobile and some damaged buildings.

Along with the members of the Swiftwater Rescue and the Search and Rescue Teams, some 35 individuals are part of the county’s Wildland Firefighting Task Force. Members of that task force are drawn from the 27 fire departments in the county — or 28, counting the one at the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant.

For now, Pittsburg County has its updated plan in place regarding emergency response procedures in case of manmade or natural disasters.

“It’s good for another year,”Enloe said. “We’ll see what this year’s policies bring to the table.”

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com

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©2019 the McAlester News-Capital (McAlester, Okla.)

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