Ready for anything

Although a catastropic disaster has yet to hit Seneca County, personnel at the Emergency Operations Center continue to prepare for any situation that may arise.

Seneca County Emergency Management Agency Director Dan Stahl said training is crucial to prepare for a wide range of emergency situations, and Tuesday, law enforcement, firefighters, EMTs and county elected officials will be among several to gather at Seneca County’s Public Safety Building to do just that.

“We re-familiarize people who have been involved, or with newly elected officials or new people, we give them the opportunity to learn what this is all about up here,” Stahl said.

Stahl, who has been Seneca County EMA’s director since 1997, labels the all-day training course as “Emergency Operations Center 101,” and said it teaches law enforcement, first responders and elected officials what their role at the EOC may be in case of a disaster or emergency.

The class also covers other aspects of an emergency or disaster, such as the emergency declaration process and long-term planning and recovery.

“We look at how to take care of the emergency at hand, and down the road, how to recover from all this,” he said.

About 45 people are expected to attend Tuesday’s training, which will be led by instructors from the state’s EMA.

“In the past, they’ve done excellent,” Stahl said of the training sessions.

“It’s basically to give everybody a good understanding of what EMA does and how the EOC operates,” he said. “We set aside a day to discuss all this stuff and get everyone familiarized.”

Tiffin Fire Chief William Ennis said staff from Tiffin Fire and Rescue will be attending the training session, which he says is an important tool for first responders.

“It’s critical we get as many people through there as we can because disasters never happen at the right time,” he said.

Ennis, who attended the training in the past, said the session gives participants a good overview of how the EOC would work during a disaster and the ways in which different positions would be filled.

“In fire service, we’re a time sensitive emergency response. In a disaster, it not only solve now, but there’s long-term planning. This helps you acclimate that you’ll be doing long term planning as much as you’re doing problem solving,” he said. “At a disaster, you need to think about what happens in the next day or the next two days.”

Seneca County Public Information Officer Dean Henry, who is no stranger to emergency and disaster preparedness training, said he also will be attending the session Tuesday.

Henry has attended the training in the past and also has attended Ohio EMA training and training at the National Fire Academy and Emergency Management Institute. He said past training in Seneca County included table-top simulation as well as an actual drill.

“When you have a large scale disaster, you have a ton of people you need to call upon,” he said. “The more people you have involved (in training), the less surprised people you have during an event.”

Stahl said a full emergency or disaster activation has not yet occurred at the EOC, which is located on the second floor of the public safety building at the Seneca County Fairgrounds. Partial activations include 2008 flooding and 2002 tornadoes. Severe weather events, windstorms, blizzards, ice storms and electricity outages also have partially activated the EOC.

The possibilities, however, are endless when it comes to the type of emergency or disaster that could occur, Stahl said.

“If we had anything major at all, we would activate (fully),” he said. “In today’s world, we would handle the activation of the emergency center differently than in the past.”

During a full activation, department heads, elected officials and EOC support personnel would be among those to meet at the center to determine how to support emergency responders in the field and provide both short- and long-term plans for the response effort.

“The whole emergency, from front to back, we would be involved here,” he said. “Our first thing would be to support command structure and get them what is needed.”

The EOC, which is equipped with work stations, offices and an emergency communication center, also would be the centralized hub to disseminate and receive information, Stahl said.

Henry said Seneca County has been lucky in that a major disaster or emergency hasn’t occurred, but practicing for one can only make perfect.

“It’s like any other exercise. … The more good practice you do, the better you’ ll be,” he said.