City plans for the worst

By Jayson Jacoby / The Baker City Herald

By TERRI HARBER

tharber@bakercityherald.com

Baker City has started putting together its emergency operations plan.

This would be the first wide-scope emergency procedure manual for city employees to use as a reference when dangers arise.

Heavy snow, flooding, earthquakes and other severe weather conditions can cause danger. Man-made problems also can require similar fast and drastic responses to keep residents safe.

Some of "our biggest worries are hazmat events," City Manager Mike Kee said.

Accidents on the train tracks or I-84, the interstate highway that runs

along the east side of the city, are examples of man-made events that

might require special emergency attention, Kee said.

Kee also highlighted the city's public works systems as sites where major problems could pose danger to the community.

Emergencies of all these types would be examined and procedures spelled out in this emergency operations plan.

Oregon's Office of Emergency Management is working with communities across the state to create consistent plans.

"It's a pretty cool project," said Matthew Lieuallen, project manager and emergency planner for Ecology and Environment Inc.

His company is working with state and local governments to create the plans.

It helps everyone who responds to emergencies across Oregon to

understand how their regional partners are responding which, in turn,

aids Oregon's citizenry, said Kee and Lieuallen.

This planning ensures that "everybody is speaking the same language," Lieuallen said.

Part of that cooperation is knowing what agencies can do what to help - and if they can help, he explained.

This can include state and federal agencies as well as local and regional responders.

Major local responders and other "stakeholders" already met recently to

talk about the project. The structure of the document will be based on

federal guidelines for emergency planning, according to Lieuallen.

The county has a separate emergency plan that focuses on the smaller

communities and their needs, such as wildfires and animal diseases, to

name just a couple.

The city's population is more highly concentrated - they live and work

more closely together than in other areas of the county. Large groups

of people work together, get schooled and receive health care together

in the city. The state prison also is located in the city.

The city's emergency responses will have to address this fact, said Mark Bennett, the county's emergency management director.

A natural gas leak on 10th Street that happened early this month is an

example of how the city's denser population affects emergency

responses, Bennett said.

While the building closest to the leak was empty people in other nearby

locations were evacuated or otherwise diverted from the location until

work to stop the leak was finished.

All three men noted that the thought process to create the plan will

help all agencies that might respond to an emergency know what they

need to do. It will greatly reduce duplication of tasks and better

ensure that other needs are fulfilled. This can often lessen the

severity of effects from a disaster.

The close working relationship that the city and county share also is

an asset whenever emergencies occur because the two governments

frequently offer each other assistance, Kee and Bennett pointed out.

The two also share a dispatch system, workers for both governments can

communicate by radio, and the new Reverse-911 system serves residents

in the city and county, Bennett said.

Cost for the city's project comes from a grant allocated by the Department of Homeland Security.

The city's plan should be finished by late 2012.

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The Baker City Herald
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