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Are we prepared for disasters?

By Lisa Brody
News Editor
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09/26/2017 - In the last few weeks, Florida and Houston have faced down catastrophic hurricanes, California, Washington and Oregon have battled devastating wildfires, and numerous western states dealt with unprecedented heat for months on end. Meanwhile, those of us in Michigan enjoyed a beautiful summer and an early, crisp fall.

Michiganders are fond of saying that if you don't like the weather, just wait an hour. We complain about long, bitterly cold winters and boast of the beautiful four seasons. But if we were confronted with a major emergency, whether a natural event or from a manmade occurrence, would our local law enforcement, homeland security, water authorities, hospitals, and municipal leaders be ready and equipped to handle anything thrown at them?

The answer is a mix of both good and bad. Oakland County Homeland Security has extensive emergency plans and hazard mitigation preparations, as do all of our local municipalities. On the converse, if a total catastrophic event occurred and there were massive power outages and cell phone towers were out, the ability to get communications to the public would likely be reduced to the "good neighbor policy" of letting neighbors and friends know what is going on. And that is quite worrisome.

Whether planning for a once-in-a-500-year flood, which is occurring on more frequent basis, an active shooter, or a hacking event to our infrastructure, all management preparations begin with Oakland County Homeland Security, which oversees emergency planning and hazard mitigation for all Oakland County government departments and all municipalities except Birmingham, Bloomfield Township, Southfield and Farmington Hills, which have their own emergency operations plan and emergency manager and works directly with the state, as any municipality with a population over 25,000 is permitted. They continue to coordinate with the county and train for many eventualities.

"We're not first responders we're the support system for multiple agencies, such as police departments and fire departments, in emergency management," said Tom Hardesty, manager, Oakland County Homeland Security. "We act as the liaison with the state and provide services to communities. Communities have to have confidence in our plans and abilities, and that their tax dollars are being used in an efficient and well-thought out manner."

The county plan, which is mandated by both the federal and state governments to be updated every four years, was last done in 2013. It states, "The goal of hazard mitigation is to eliminate or reduce the loss of life and property from hazards that occur in the county by protecting the health, safety and economic interests of its residents."

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