By Richard Dean
Although it is unlike the maelstrom of other locales, Chippewa County, Wisconsin is not without risk.
I became clearly aware of this circumstance while shadowing the Director of the Chippewa County Emergency Management, Dennis Brown, on a mid-September morning. The office bustled with activity. The GIS manager, Russell Bauer, sat on a conference call regarding an innovative GIS platform. The administrative assistant, Marcy Trubshaw, compiled an education program for a local fire department in order to ensure that members of the community knew what to do during the various emergencies they might encounter. It was a familiar task given her previous work at Chippewa Valley Technical College as a fire service instructor.
Brown was scrubbing a 911 database for errors, determining the accident history at a key intersection, and scheduling a reverse 911 robo-call in support of a planned four-hour power outage to simulate a power loss due to weather conditions.
“Prevention and mitigation are not sexy” Brown said, “but they are critical, as you never know what your activities prevented.”
Various analog maps covered the available wall space depicting floodplains, urban areas, and hazardous material sites throughout the county. Digital monitors dotted the office, tracking the exact location of patrol cars within the county, weather conditions, and radio transmissions between emergency service officers and dispatch personnel. The director himself had a to-do list scrawled on a notebook, checking off each item as it was completed.
My experience shadowing Brown brought several revelations regarding the tendencies of local communities and the role and reactions of government.
“After a small town goes through an emergency,” Brown said. “It is common for the area to experience an exodus of sorts.” A tornado response plan revealed the need to implement price controls after an emergency, should local officials find evidence of price gouging.
Brown provided the final insight on government involvement in emergencies late in my visit: “During a ‘Baby Jessica’ event there is a tendency to spare no expense – increasing sight lines at an intersection – not so much.”