For as long as I can remember, Conservation department employees have assisted in emergency situations. Staff have taken action to rescue drowning, choking and accident victims. The Department and its staff are also ready to step up when natural disasters strike.
After Hurricane Katrina in the fall of 2005, the Department answered the call for help. Sixteen conservation agents and agent supervisors, with eight boats, went to New Orleans. Search and rescue was their top priority.
Severe spring storms in 2006 brought significant destruction to southeast Missouri. The Department aided with both staff and equipment. Teams assisted with road cleanup and county-damage assessment, and agents provided security detail.
About this time, all Missouri state agencies incorporated the National Incident Management System (NIMS). NIMS provides a consistent approach for federal, state and local governments to work together more effectively and efficiently during domestic incidents.
NIMS taught Department employees how to determine the most critical needs during a major disaster and effectively gather resources to meet them on local, county or state levels. They learned how to organize and move large groups of people and/or entities. Staff also learned how to create an Incident Command Team. Each member of the team is assigned distinct duties that ensure law enforcement, fire control, financial management, safety, computer technology and other responsibilities are appropriately addressed during emergencies.
Along with the NIMS training requirements, the Department places a high priority on safety programs. Employees are instructed in the proper operation of chainsaws, ATVs, watercraft, firearms and other specialized equipment. Safety equipment and gear are mandated. Accidents are reviewed to determine how they can be avoided in the future. With the specialized skills of Conservation employees, it isn’t surprising that the Department of Public Safety asked us to take a much larger role in managing Missouri’s emergency response and recovery if a natural or technological catastrophe occurs.
Severe winter weather in early 2007 created an “opportunity” for us to use the Incident Command Team concept. With power outages affecting thousands and massive debris blockages in several counties, the Department and other state agencies quickly joined SEMA’s efforts. Conservation employees opened roads for emergency vehicles and the National Guard and provided access to power lines for utility trucks. Conservation agents helped with well-being checks and law enforcement. Numerous Department staff volunteered to work in treacherous conditions.
The 2007 spring rains created yet another need to activate an Incident Command Team. Whether patrolling flood-swollen waters, evacuating trapped people or helping with the extensive debris clean-up, Department employees were proud to serve.
As caretakers of Missouri’s fish, forests and wildlife, we are forever reminded of the bounty and unpredictability of nature. We’re just happy we can be there to help out with both.
Debbie Strobel, human resources division chief
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