Preparing for emergencies and disasters is a long and arduous process, explains Bill Bishop, director of the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security.
Responders must think globally but act locally, he told a crowd of nearly 200 people assembled recently in Lewiston for the annual Idaho Prepares conference. As validated by recent hurricanes in the Gulf Coast region, disasters respect no political boundaries, cultures or economic positions.
Following Hurricane Katrina, Idaho was in a unique position to provide state-to-state assistance, Bishop explained. Idaho, Oregon and Massachusetts initially were prepared to accept hurricane refugees from Louisiana and Mississippi.
Natural disasters strike locally but their effects are felt regionally, nationally and internationally. The terrorist attacks of 2001 and this year’s hurricanes have changed our lives… influencing how we relate to each other, Bishop emphasized.
The immediate challenge is to provide direction to that change… “to how government responds and manages disasters. Our challenge is to help Congress use restraint and to address our shortcomings” rather than discard the system and start over, he added.
While Bishop spoke, Michael Brown, ousted director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, went under the Congressional microscope during the first day of hearings on the agency’s response to hurricane Katrina.
Hurricane evacuations reinforce Bishop’s call to re-evaluate Idaho’s preparedness plan.
“Idaho needs to update its emergency plan. For example, we need to address how to move the elderly and infirm during an evacuation from a disaster area. We need to account for those who are not mobile, in addition to those who physically cannot evacuate.
“We are going to have the first and greatest opportunity for responding… The bottom line is, it comes down to us, our neighbors, individually and collectively,” Bishop said.
Disaster response moved from the theoretical to the practical on Thursday (Sept. 29) when about 15 ITD employees met at District 2 Headquarters for an overview of the department’s response plans.
Bryan Smith, ITD’s disaster response coordinator, explained the foundation and development of the department’s emergency management plan and discussed policies and procedures that govern ITD responses.
He emphasized that most of the operations traditionally viewed as maintenance activities are part of emergency/disaster preparedness. Those who plow highways in the winter, repair guardrails in the summer and assist with vehicle crashes are first-responders.
Securing the safety of the transportation system is an emergency function. Smith referred to the closure earlier in the week of Idaho 55 because of a suspicious item under Rainbow Bridge as a perfect example of how ITD’s role is changing.
The department is evolving into a 24-hour, 365-day-a-year response organization, which will require a new definition of ITD, he added.
The ITD group included representatives from all six administrative districts and all six divisions.
Other speakers at the ITD workshop included David Jackson of the Bureau of Homeland Security; Frank Tooke, financial specialist and emergency coordinator for the Federal Highway Administration; and Sarah Hutchins, program coordinator for the Idaho State University Institute of Emergency Management.