Prepared for anything

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Clay County’s disaster planning covers everything from nuclear attack to floods

An increase of interest in how well-equipped local governments are for tragedies — such as a nuclear attack or disaster — has become more prominent in the wake of rising tensions with North Korea. Clay County Emergency Manager Eric Tigges shared that while a disaster occurring from a nuclear strike via North Korea was incredibly unlikely, Clay County would be well-prepared for it or any other disasters which may occur.

“First and foremost, saber-rattling and talk like this has gone on for decades and decades and decades,” Tigges said. “North Korea likes to talk once and a while, and nobody needs to be overly alarmed about a nuclear war anytime soon.”

He continued, “In the ‘50s and ‘60s the predecessor to Emergency Management was the Civil Defense director, and the large part of the job was to identify fallout shelters, perform local exercises and stuff like that for when the Soviet Union might drop nuclear bombs. In the early ‘80s we still did testing and plans in school — things like getting under your desk. ... As the ‘80s transitioned and the Soviet Union fell, those plans (changed),” Tigges said. “Civil Defense plans transferred into Emergency Management and we ... started to take just an all-hazard look at the world. ... Whether it’s a flood, a tornado, or even a nuclear attack, the players are going to be the same.”

Tigges explained along with changes from the Civil Defense evolving into modern Emergency Management, so too did event specific plans like Clay County’s “1981 Nuclear Civil Protection Plan,” which is obsolete, but remains in the Clay County Emergency Management’s archive.

“The ‘nuclear plan’ went from this old document to part of the multihazard plan. In the post 9/11 days, the federal government ... (required each county) by federal law to have a disaster response plan, and that disaster response plan gets recertified every single year. A big part of what I do in Emergency Management is to update and maintain our plans and change things as they evolve,” Tigges said. “Clay County today runs under an Emergency Support Function, multihazard multijurisdictional plan.”

He continued, “In the ESF, stabilizing the environment — like a tornado with widespread chaos — stabilizing it so that you can start the recovery process, that’s the most critical time. It’s the same if it’s a nuclear attack, tornado, massive flood. Stabilization — so that you can begin the recovery process, that’s our goal.”

Tigges said volunteer efforts and an appreciation for preparedness from city officials currently has Clay County and its emergency departments prepared for just about anything.

“We have a very dedicated group of volunteers that work extraordinarily hard every year. ... They do trainings, we do county-wide disaster drills, ... smaller scale drills every single year. We test and maintain our tornado sirens throughout the county, I would say we’re as prepared as we’re going to be,” Tigges said. “Even our paid staff: The Spencer Fire Department and Fire Chief (John) Conyn, Police Chief Warburton, Clay County Sheriff (Chris) Raveling, they all have a lot of dedication towards public safety in Clay County and I think that reflects in our quality of life here.”

Despite Clay County’s preparedness, Tigges said that he still prepares for the worst possible outcomes regardless.

“Where I get nervous is if our system was to become overrun. ... If a 747 fell out of the sky and landed four miles east of Spencer, Iowa, ... (if) that overwhelms our infrastructure, overwhelms our ability to respond, that's what makes me nervous,” Tigges said. “But I recognize that, so we plan for that. We have plans on how we could bring on agencies from the outside. Sioux City Flight 232 disaster is a perfect example of that, they executed mutual aid agreements, plans that they had exercised (for) at that airport and brought in agencies from long distances to be prepared for that disaster, those are the things that concern me.”

For citizens nostalgic for fallout shelters and gas masks, Tigges explained that current emergency preparations could handle just about anything.

“We’ve evolved past the fallout shelters and all that stuff, if Offutt Air force Base was hit by a nuclear bomb tomorrow, our emergency support functions, our ESF plans, Clay County multihazard plans would be fully capable of taking care of anything,” Tigges said. “That’s the cool thing about the plans, you’re not writing, planning for the specifics, it’s a framework that it doesn’t matter what the event is. I use the same plan for the Clay County Fair that I would for a nuclear disaster, it’s a loose framework where you're identifying the functions and not the disaster. We are going to respond by and large to every event similarly, and that’s where you put your focus — on your response — not on the disaster.”

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