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How do east Idaho counties respond to emergencies?

Flooding in Inkom in 2023 | Logan Ramsey,
POCATELLO — County officials prepare for a wide variety of emergencies, all the way from fires that threaten population centers down to inclement weather.
In order to respond to disasters, they require cooperation between departments in the counties and cities in order to mount an effective response. Many counties have emergency managers who work to coordinate resources between all of the involved entities.
“It’s imperative that between the Sheriff’s Office and Road and Bridge and the Commissioners, that we’re all hand-in-hand working on these issues together,” said Scott Reese, emergency manager for Bingham County.
Robert Kohler, the emergency manager for Madison County, explained each agency has a specific skill set and training that doesn’t cross over into other areas. Small incidents don’t require coordination, but when an emergency is large enough it becomes Kohler’s job to support responding agencies.
“We’ve found great success because all of our agencies have serving the public at their heart and in the forefront of their mind,” Kohler said.
When an emergency grows to a level that requires a coordinated relief effort, first responders will go out into the community and meet immediate needs while emergency managers go into their office to initiate an emergency operation center. Kohler clarified this isn’t the emergency manager operating as an incident commander, but rather a support role that accesses what the community and responding agencies need and getting it to them.
“We are the support that comes and says we can help you with this. We can take this load off you,” Kohler said.
Kohler said in the spring and summer last year, flooding required Madison County to activate an emergency operation center. Kohler’s role in fighting the flooding was to distribute sandbags throughout the community to protect businesses, infrastructure and residences.
Wes Jones, the Bannock County Emergency Manager, said the response required for different emergencies are judged based on what class of incident they are, going from five to one.
A class five incident is something simple, like a police officer issuing a speeding citation. An emergency operation center can’t be activated until it’s a class three emergency, either partially or in full based on the needs of the incident commander. An example of a class three incident would be a multi-vehicular wreck, a structure fire or a wildfire.
At a class two incident, some state and federal resources are required to combat the emergency. Normally an emergency operation center will be activated to coordinate relief efforts. A well-known class two incident was the Charlotte Fire in 2012, which destroyed dozens of homes and 1,100 acres. file photo
The most severe incident is a class one, which lasts for an extended period of time and requires federal support. The only example of a class one incident in recent memory Jones could think of was the federal response to COVID-19.
Many of the counties hold classes to help prepare department and elected officials for what’s required of them in the case of an emergency. Jones said that in these classes, they cover everything from how to respond to flooding to a fire on the same scale of the one in Hawaii that broke out in August.
“If you can’t respond to a small scale incident. You’re not gonna be able to perform very well at the large scale incidents,” Jones said.
Brad Clements, the Bonneville County emergency manager, said the best way for people to stay calm in an emergency is by assessing the risk factors for their area, and preparing for them. His office encourages everyone to have a 72-hour-kit for each individual in their home, as well as a personal emergency plan.
“Paying attention to official sources or vetted sources when it comes to getting information in a disaster and being prepared ahead of time is probably the best thing that you can do,” Clements said.
Many Idaho counties have mutual aid agreements with each other, where they will provide aid to surrounding counties as needed to effectively deal with the emergency together.
Reese said in 2017, Bingham County was experiencing flooding that required an emergency response. Clements and Jones both reached out to him and provided needed assistance for the county and helped them through the incident.
And Reese said Bingham County has also been able to provide assistance to other smaller counties throughout the years when they’ve experienced flooding by providing sandbags.
“They don’t expect anything in return because we’re all in it together. We have such a limited amount of resources, whether it’s law enforcement, EMS or fire, we need to pull our resources,” Reese said.
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