Sheriff Coordinates Disaster Response

November 11, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Kent County has received $5 million in federal grants the past two years that the Sheriff’s Department is using to prepare for local emergencies — either natural disasters such as a tornado, or man-made ones like a major chemical spill.

Lt. Jack Stewart said the $5 million is funding 10 separate projects. He said the most vital is the interoperable communication system (ICS) that was developed for the 11 units across the county that are considered first responders.

Stewart said fire, police, emergency medical teams, hospitals and public officials need to talk with each other during an emergency situation, something first responders in New York weren’t able to do during the terrorist assault on the World Trade Center four years ago.

“Our big project is the ICS,” said Stewart. “We tested it on Sept. 16 and everyone has it.”

Another key purchase the county made was to buy a disposable robot that can handle hazardous materials and suspicious packages. The robot was tested in September, too.

“It did what it was supposed to do,” said Susan Barthels, president of the Michigan Emergency Management Association.

The grant money also has trained 1,500 first responders for chemical, biological, nuclear, radiological and explosive incidents; $60,000 of the total has been set aside to protect vulnerable targets in the county during a heightened alert. Some funds have gone toward personal protection gear for first responders, and for portable respirators.

Stewart explained that $350,000 has been spent to buy three days’ worth of prescription drugs that would be given to first responders and their families during an emergency. Each of the hospitals have some stashed away, while the rest are kept in a warehouse. After three days, replacement drugs would come from a national stockpile, Stewart said.

The grant money will also be used to train a citizen emergency response team, develop an emergency plan for the county’s schools, and create a medical reserve unit of doctors, nurses and medics.

In addition, Stewart wants to integrate the National Incident Management System with the National Response Plan. Federal funds for 2006 will help him accomplish that task.

“We’re very, very busy,” he said.

The Sheriff’s Department has put together a brochure that explains to residents what they should do to prepare for an emergency and what they should do during and after one. The brochure gives details on how to make an emergency supply kit, and lists Web sites that offer more information. Stewart said everyone needs a plan because a call to 911 during a disaster isn’t going to bring as immediate of a response as it does during normal times.

The brochures are free and available at D&W Food Centers, Family Fare Supermarkets, Rite Aid, CVS and Walgreen pharmacies.    

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