Response plan boost to county preparedness

Daily Journal

Johnson County has been spared a devastating tornado so far this year, but when one does hit, or some other natural disaster ravages the area, the emergency response will be coordinated thanks to a new county emergency response plan.

The plan is a countywide collaboration that puts police officers and firefighters exactly where they’re supposed to be in the event of an emergency. The plan also lists all schools and every facility that has hazardous chemicals.

The likelihood of various events — such as tornado, flood, drought, disease outbreak, chemical and terrorist attack and school shooting — has been studied, past incidents have been reviewed to pinpoint areas that needed improvement, and hours of training, planning and predicting the unpredictable have gone into the plan.

The most likely event to hit Johnson County would be a natural disaster, and severe weather is the main concern, especially in the summer. So the county focused much of the new emergency plan around lessons learned from its most significant natural disaster of the past 10 years.

When major flooding hit Johnson County in 2008, the county had to contact the Indiana Emergency Operations Center, which in turn contacted the Red Cross. With the new plan, Johnson County Emergency Management Director Stephanie Sichting can call her Red Cross representative and start the aid process for residents.

Also, the emergency management office had only one phone line during the 2008 flood. Now, the department has six lines for residents to call in a natural disaster, which will help Sichting and officials understand the magnitude of an event and whether the Red Cross is needed immediately.

“Our county and city departments are more prepared than they were in 2008,” Sichting said. “We found strengths and weaknesses in our response and rescue efforts. When you go through it once, you learn a lot.”

Officials used experience from previous natural disasters as the foundation for the new plan, which was finalized last month. Procedures were developed, and training in various scenarios has begun.

The key is coordination among all of the county’s emergency responders.

Water teams and dive teams train with each other, in case flooding hits the county again. If there is a chemical spill, the Greenwood Fire Department has a hazardous materials team.

All local police departments work together throughout the year on various disaster relief plans, but one in particular is a school shooting scenario. Training together and knowing other officers is vital in the event of a school shooting, when all police are trained to immediately go to the school.

“We train together for these types of incidents now. We work together, and we want everyone to know each other so we are not confronting a person in a school carrying a gun who might be an off-duty officer,” Johnson County Sheriff Doug Cox said.

While it is impossible to plan for every potential disaster, the county’s emergency plan offers a solid guide for effective and coordinated response.

At issue

When disaster strikes Johnson County, quick action by emergency responders is vital.

Our point

A new countywide emergency plan offers structure for an effective, coordinated response.