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Mutual Aid Stakeholders: Building Relationships, Building Plans

For three days in May, 42 states, 2 territories and 5 tribal agencies gathered for the sixth annual National Mutual Aid Stakeholders Meeting in St. Charles, Mo. While the first of such meetings in 2006 began with only 35 participants, the 2011 meeting grew to about 130 participants.

This year, the meeting began just after the tornado hit Joplin. St. Charles Fire Chief Ernie Rhodes and several of his staff were called on to help. After watching strong winds, storms and tornado warnings come through the St. Charles area, the importance of mutual-aid planning was even more apparent to all who were there. Throughout the meeting, participants discussed best practices in mutual aid and gathered lessons learned.

On Tuesday, four incident reviews were presented to the group:

  • Chief Walter Gardner, of Warrenton, N.C., spoke about the Southern States warehouse fire that took place on February 2, 2011.
  • Chief Rob Eyler, of Wooster City, Ohio, spoke about the severe storms and tornado on September 16, 2010.
  • Mr. Bob Bauer of the Illinois State Geological Survey gave his presentation “The Science of Earthquakes.”
  • Chief Steve Pollock, of the Texas State Forest Service, discussed the western Texas wildland fires that began in February of this year.

Upon completion of the presentations, the participants broke into groups defined by the 10 FEMA regions. Each group walked through the region’s response to four similar hypothetical events in that region. First, the groups worked through the potential need for a unified command, setting operational periods, determining priorities and objectives and selecting a command location.

In step two, they assessed the available resources—local, state, regional and federal. Step three was to evaluate the need for external resource management, including a Go Team, incident management team or others. If the scenario was severe, the group had to evaluate the requirement for logistics and support, shelters, emergency personnel support and a PIO for media relations. To complete the exercise, an after-action plan had to be created for recovery and reimbursement.

Several major points came from the exercise. One group noted the importance of starting recordkeeping immediately. Another group concluded that relationships with utilities and public-works crews were imperative due to their involvement on the scene. The Forestry Service, Red Cross, Salvation Army, USAR Teams, National Park Service, EMAC and health departments are just a few of the organizations that may also be on scene.

When electronic communications are unavailable, newsletters are an excellent solution. And of course, planning ahead with a mutual-aid plan was considered essential; preplanning can eliminate many problems.

On the last day of the meeting, time was allotted for stakeholders to talk about their mutual-aid plans, failures, needs and successes. States found the networking at the meeting invaluable. The relationships that have been formed through the process of developing the plans have made deployments to help much more fluid; having someone to call when there’s a question is beneficial.

Through these relationships, some states have started to do interstate planning. Examples in the process include a Frontier Exercise in June, a New England region meeting to discuss mutual aid and plans of an interdisciplinary exercise in Colorado.

Another big push that came from the meeting is the need for at least some type of resource-tracking system. The IAFC announced that it entered into an agreement to provide the Ohio Mutual Aid Resource Data System to other states through an MOU free of charge as funding allows. The data system can be manipulated by another state’s IT department to allow for flexibility between states.

The IAFC is also working to complete the Resource Data, Dispatch and Demobilization System (RD3). This system is being built from the ground up using a design team from Tennessee and Florida. The state-resource database system is based on NIMS Typing standard, and the project completion date is set for September 30.

For more information on the National Mutual Aid Stakeholders’ Meeting, please contact Sonja Palomaki.

Sonja Palomaki is program coordinator for the IAFC’s IMAS program.

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