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Commissioners discuss the county's flood preparedness

Apr 15, 2012 By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

Fremont County Emergency Management coordinator Kathi Metzler presented good and bad news to commissioners in regard to possible flooding in the coming months.

Unless the area receives heavy rain or snow soon, conditions will look more like a drought this year, Metzler said.

Emergency workers will be "chasing fires this year," she said.

But if a flood event -- especially one similar to the flood that affected Lander and the surrounding areas last year and in 2010 -- were to occur, the question of which county government workers could help remains unknown.

County commissioners are tackling federal mandates that are tied to government funding assistance and require county employees to undergo hours of training so they can work during emergency situations such as flood relief.

Metzler told commissioners about the requirement under the federal National Incident Management System.

"We need to have training for the people who would" participate for commissioners to consider county workers as assets during emergency situations, Metzler said.

"We must be NIMS compliant to receive money," she said.

The county would lose money without the proper certification for county employees.

"They can come audit us and take our grant money," Metzler said.

The county's coffers would take a hit without the federal assistance.

"We can still utilize our employees however we want. We just won't get reimbursed by the federal government," said county clerk Julie Freese.

Freese said county employees at the courthouse should be able to help in a flooding situation rather than continue with office tasks.

"It seems ironic to me," she said.

Metzler said training for certain types of employees, depending on their role in an emergency situation, can range from one- to four-hour courses in classrooms.

The classes cover topics such as introductions to the incident command systems, while others have more detailed subjects.

"It doesn't really make you a better sand bag shoveler or sand bag filler," said commission vice chairman Pat Hickerson.

"I'm trying to figure out how you get 300 assets trained," said county commissioner Doug Thompson during the discussion April 3. "So logistically that's a problem in and of itself."

Thompson asked for suggestions on implementing training.

"How would we accomplish that? How would we NIMS train our 300 employees to keep our federal guys happy?" he asked.

At their meeting, commissioners heard that the county public health agency rotated staff through similar training over set days to achieve the certification.

Hickerson suggested not requiring all county employees to do the course work.

"I guess I'm sort of leaning toward a compromised position," he said. "I guess I would prefer we pick out the ones that would be in leadership roles."

"As far as our staff, with FEMA the only reimbursement we get is for overtime," he said, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "That's typically not a huge amount of money. The majority of our reimbursement comes for our equipment."

Thompson agreed with a more fine-tuned picture on employees who would work in an emergency situation.

"We need to look at the picture on the ground, I guess," he said. "Who is going to be in leadership? Who is going to be in an event?"

Thompson said he didn't want to blanket all county employees under the required training.

"I wouldn't support everybody doing the full thing, so let's get a realistic (number)," he said.

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