By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
World events have prompted community leaders to update local disaster-response plans.
The Local Emergency Planning Committee consists of representatives of more than 20 local, state and federal organizations and agencies that work to devise emergency action plans. Although the committee has been meeting for more than 20 years, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the war in Iraq have brought about new concerns, Havre Police Chief Kevin Olson said.
Olson, who chairs the committee, said it was originally concerned with earthquake, flood and fire scenarios.
"Initially, it was devised to implement plans in response to natural disasters," he said. "Since September 11, the focus has changed a little to respond to man-made disasters."
Olson said the committee believes a terrorist attack in Hill County is unlikely, but that the county needs to be prepared nonetheless.
"From the committee's standpoint, this area is more likely to face a natural disaster than a terrorist attack, but we have to be vigilant to all types of emergencies," he said. "We have to take into consideration that Havre lies next to a major highway and a rail depot."
The committee meets on a regular basis to improve current plans and devise new ones, said Hill County Commissioner Pat Conway.
"The war has spurred our preparation in some areas," he said. "We are discussing the types of disasters that could occur."
Those plans are still being developed, Conway said.
Organizations represented on the committee include the Hill County Health Department, the County Commission, the U.S. Border Patrol, the FBI, the Havre police and fire departments, Havre Public Schools, the sheriff's office, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, the American Red Cross and Northern Montana Health Care.
"It's not just local agencies involved," Olson said. "It's a cooperative effort with every level of government."
Olson said that one issue the committee is trying to address is using resources effectively.
"One concern we have is that we don't have all of the resources of a large metropolitan area, so we have to build our plans based on available resources and pool them all together," he said.
The committee has devised a number of plans that vary depending on what type of disaster occurs, and which agencies will be involved, Conway said. Leading the response team will be an incident commander, who is selected based on the type of disaster and the person's expertise, he added.
In the event of disaster, the committee would meet in the basement of the Hill County Courthouse, Conway said. From there, the committee would declare a state of emergency, and alert the local radio stations.
"People should use the radio to learn what action and precautions to take," Conway said.
The committee would use a phone tree to contact the necessary emergency personnel, Conway said. Each phone tree is unique to the specific emergency. For instance, if a large fire broke out, the first emergency phone calls might be to a different agency than if a biological attack would occur.
One of the newer committee plans is built on the possibility of a terrorist attack. The health department in particular has been working to address the concern, Conway said. In addition to giving smallpox vaccinations to medical personnel, the department has been receiving training on how to deal with an outbreak.
The community would be informed of an emergency through use of a loud, wailing siren, Conway said.
"One of the most important things is the use of our civil defense siren," Olson said. "It's extremely important for people to realize that if it is activated, they need to tune in to 610 AM or 92.5 FM for instructions. If you are at home, you should stay at home, and close all the doors and windows."
The committee is working to make sure that the radios used by law enforcement and other emergency service workers can be set to a common channel to coordinate the effort, Conway said.