Contributed by: Laura Cleland, AOC Operations and Communications Director

Date: June 15, 2016

The AOC Spring Summit – Resilient Oregon Counties. Prepare. Recover. Mitigate. – took 85 county leaders to Umatilla County for informative sessions and productive networking opportunities. Counties know first-hand that disasters happen. And, that these disasters come in all shapes and sizes. But, does your county know their role to ensure the county is ready to respond? Counties must be trained to handle various emergency situations, convene partners and build multi-level relationships, identify problem areas to fill gaps, effectively communicate with employees and constituents, and ensure the needs of responders are met. After a day and a half of presentations on preparation, response, and mitigation the number one takeaway was that relationship are critical to success. So, don’t wait until disaster strikes. Convene leaders and community partners to start – or continue – the conversation.

Below is a more detailed overview of the information gleaned by county leaders in attendance at the AOC Spring Summit. And, for those looking for even more detail, presentations and handouts from presenters are available by clicking here.

To kick things off, Umatilla County commissioners and managers treated attendees to a spectacular home-cooked barbecue reception on Sunday evening. NACo President Sallie Clark was among the participants and she said, “This is the best state association dinner I have ever had.” And she’s had a lot of them! Well done Umatilla County.

Attendees got down to business first thing Monday morning hearing from Sallie Clark on her Safe and Secure Counties initiative. Sallie hails from Colorado which has much in common with Oregon. She also provided an update on NACo activities and previewed the upcoming NACo Annual Conference.

It was a pleasure for AOC to welcome Oregon’s first-ever state resiliency officer, Mike Harryman, to speak at the summit. Mike was confirmed to this post in late May. The role of the state resiliency officer is to coordinate preparations for the Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake. Mike will be working closely with the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, state agencies and counties to get everyone as prepared as possible for this looming disaster. AOC looks forward to working closely with Mike in the months and years ahead.

AOC was honored to have a couple of state legislators join the summit on Monday, and they took to the podium during lunch. Senator Bill Hansell (R-Athena) and Rep. Greg Barreto (R-Cove) provided a look at what’s ahead in the Oregon Legislature. Much of the discussion centered on a transportation package and issues of interest to rural Oregon. It was a banner day to have the current NACo president and a past NACo president (Hansell, 2005/06) in the room together.

Prepare for an emergency

On Monday afternoon, Dianne Mekkers, government liaison lead for the American Red Cross, Cascades Region, kicked off the “prepare” session with general comments on preparedness. Takeaways included:

  • Every person/family should be prepared
  • Preparation reduces recovery time
  • Business resiliency is critical to a successful recovery
  • Counties officials need to be proactive and lead by example

Yumei Wang, geohazards section leader of the Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI) focused on her presentation on earthquakes. Takeaways included:

  • Earthquakes are multi-hazards
  • Earthquakes have multiple impacts
  • Multi-level resilience planning is smart

Tillamook County Public Works Director Lianne Welch focused on preparing for floods. Her key takeaways included:

  • Make sure your employees are prepared and ready to handle what’s coming their way
  • Make sure you have the equipment and materials needed to support your employees and your community
  • Make sure you know where you have problem areas
  • Make sure you communicate with your community in advance and are able to communicate with your community when the disaster strikes

Wildfire was the focus of the presentation from Sgt. Nathan Garibay, emergency services manager for the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office. His overarching message – relationships are key. Within that message he provided a few takeaways for attendees:

  • Don’t wait until smoke is in the air to get to know your local partners
  • Work to build fire-resilient communities
  • Make sure your warning systems are in place
  • Prepare and utilize a robust public information effort

The final presentation of the day on preparation was on active shooter/armed occupation events by FBI Special Agent in Charge Greg Bretzing. His key takeaways included:

  • Build relationships at the local, state, and federal level.
  • Coordinate and collaborate to ensure you are well educated and trained for what might come your way.
  • Gather intelligence to ensure you know what’s going on in your community
  • Be ready for the public response and understanding to the outrage and grief that comes with an emergency situation

This was an information-filled session and one major theme – build relationships with all of your community partners, in addition to state and federal partners now – before you have a crisis.

The day did not end there! Following the summit sessions, buses took attendees on a tour of the Eastern Oregon Trade and Events Center, a partnership between Umatilla County and the City of Hermiston. Following the tour, attendees enjoyed dinner and conversation at Sno Road Winery in the historic city of Echo.

Recover from an emergency

Bright and early Tuesday morning, the first summit session looked at how counties can better recover from a disaster.  Dianne Mekkers with the Red Cross, again, provided county leaders and emergency managers with an overview on what leads to a successful recovery.

  • Plan now for a successful recovery by mobilizing the whole community
  • Have a plan for how to handle volunteer and donations management
  • Mobilize your community and volunteer organizations because government cannot do it alone
  • Reach out and learn from those who have experienced disasters
  • Lead the way as an elected official because people look to you

Lianne Welch from Tillamook County followed with a look at how counties can better recover from a flood event. Takeaways included:

  • Opening roads is a top priority so emergency responders and others can provide support
  • Utilize the community response to distribute resources
  • Understand the rules of a Federal disaster declaration
  • Look for hazard mitigation projects to provide ensure community has more resources to prevent similar disasters in the future

Sgt. Nathan Garibay returned to discuss the challenges of recovering from wildfire and informed attendees that setting realist expectations are the first step as all eyes are on local government leaders during a time of crisis. With this in mind, Sgt. Garibay shared some tips for where county leaders can go for help, including:

  • Look to FEMA in a federally declared disaster
  • Seek out programs for individual assistance, public assistance, fire management assistance grants and hazard mitigation
  • Know the line between government and citizen responsibility

Matt Marheine, manager of the Operation and Preparedness Section at the Oregon Office of Emergency Management shared his suggestions for how county leaders can recover following “the big one” – a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake. He encouraged attendees to become familiar with the Cascadia Playbook and use it as a starting point in county efforts to prepare for, and recovery from, the earthquake. Takeaways from the presentation included:

  • Imagine all the impacts of a Cascadia earthquake with 15 million people living in the impact zone. For example, there may be no fuel for weeks/months/years.
  • Use the Cascadia Playbook to help get your county organized
  • Use a plan that has already been developed – you don’t need to reinvent the wheel
  • Focus on the first 14 days of the recovery process

The final presenter on the recovery was Leslie Ford, director of clinical innovation at Greater Oregon Behavioral Healthcare Inc. (GOHBI). Leslie is involved in the recovery effort in Douglas County following the shooting at Umpqua Community College. She shared key takeaways on how to support the community following an emergency event, including:

  • Response will need to be coordinated and fast
  • Response will need to be spread out across multiple sites or locations
  • Response will include many meetings and debriefings with those impacted, including emergency responders and county staff supporting the recovery process
  • Response should include a daily briefing will all key partners
  • Response happens at the speed of trust, and only with those you trust. Relationships are critical to success

Mitigate an emergency

The final session of the summit looked at mitigating disaster situations. Specifically, what can we do now, to minimize the impacts of future emergencies. Harney County Judge Steve Grasty shared his perspective on why the armed occupation in his county could have been worse. He provided examples of solutions that helped to mitigate the situation:

  • Before the occupation occurred, Harney County, the government and residents, worked with the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to develop the management plan under which the Refuge operates.
  • The High Desert Partnership was created in Harney County to work collaboratively with the federal government, the county and all stakeholders on collaborative land management issues.
  • Having collaborative efforts in place prior to the occupation ensured that critical relationships already established.
  • Judge Grasty is working to broaden the collaborative process through the creation of the Oregon Partnership Center, which will advance the use of collaborative problem solving on federal and associated lands to create solutions for rural communities that address environmental, economic and social needs.

Joe Stutler, co-chair of the Wildland Cohesive Strategy – Western Region, shared solutions on how to mitigate wildfire. Key takeaways included:

  • Provide strategic leadership for both collaboration and outcomes.
  • Provide clear leadership intent – what we will do, why it is important, how will it look when we are done.
  • Engage in intelligent risk taking and understand the notion of both risk transfer and accepting risk.
  • Don’t allow temporary setbacks be defined as failures, go back to collaborative and cohesive strategy behavior roots and begin the learning and adaptive process.
  • Provide a learning and facilitative environment for department heads, other elected officials and the public.

Curry County Commissioner David Brock Smith enlightened attendees with his work to mitigate the looming disaster from Sudden Oak Death Syndrome – a spore producing water mold devastating trees in Southern Oregon. He informed county leaders that this rapidly growing problem will continue to spread to surrounding counties if something is not done to stop it. Commissioner Brock Smith shared his experience working the the Oregon Legislature to secure $250,000 in funding from the Emergency Board to fight the steady march of Sudden Oak Death.

Rounding out the mitigation session was a presentation from Douglas County Commissioner Tim Freeman and Jamie Damon with Oregon Consensus. Commissioner Freeman convened the Douglas County Leadership Council which included the range of local implementation agencies and organizations responding to the Umpqua Community College shooting and Jamie facilitated bi-weekly meetings to identify needs and seek funding for coordinated implementation following the shooting. The primary message from both presenters was to build partnerships now. Don’t wait for the disaster to happen. The relationship you have with someone – good or bad – will be strengthened or strained for better or worse during a disaster.

President Givens concluded the summit by thanking presenters for their time, their insight, and their stories. He noted that while we wish these tragic situations did not happened, the knowledge gained from the experience is invaluable. Commissioner Givens informed attendees that his goal moving forward is to continue to beat the drum on resiliency so Oregon counties will be prepared for what ever situation comes their way. He suggested attendees think about what county leaders can propose to the Oregon Legislature to better support emergency management. Finally, President Givens shared that he is working with AOC staff to develop a first-response emergency handbook for county leaders.