Thursday, October 17, 2013

Kent County In The Face Of Disaster

We see it all over the world; flash floods, unpredictable tornadoes, and stifling blizzards.  Natural disasters have an element of surprise that can be unnerving.  Although, certain incidents can’t be avoided in times of emergency, there are preventative ways to help eliminate the dangers of natural disasters through city preparedness.  

In April 2013, Grand Rapids experienced extreme flooding.  The Grand River, which flows through downtown, reached an all time high of 21.85 ft.; the flood stage for the river is 18 ft.  Images of emptied homes and windows with visible fish swimming by them rush to mind.  For at least a week, I was concerned my car would get stuck in the pools of water while driving and have to be dragged to an auto shop in Grand Rapids.  Mayor George Heartwell declared a state of emergency, the first since 1998.  What action was taken to further prepare our city for a disaster of this kind?

See if you can recall the February blizzard of 2011.  It began with 6.1 inches of snow recorded Tuesday, and continued with another 11.1 inches on Wednesday.  Countless businesses closed and all schools did.  Numerous homes lost power.  Out of necessity, neighbors worked together to dig snow from front doors and cars.  Not a state of emergency, but quite a disaster.  How did the city respond to this massive blizzard?

The Kent County Emergency Management Division is in charge of planning for, preparing for, and responding to natural disasters that occur within Kent County.  The Department of Homeland Security has identified specific projects that receive funding to improve the level of preparedness in our county in the face of disaster.  With the funding for these projects, Kent County has been able to increase training for our response agencies and improve our overall capability for natural disaster response.  Some of the specific projects are, enhancing Bomb Squad capability, critical infrastructure protection, providing Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear and Explosive equipment to responders, and citizen emergency training and preparedness programs; to name a few.  

Grand Rapids is working on a collaborative effort with 13 surrounding counties to develop a Regional Response Plan.  This will enhance abilities to respond and protect our communities by working together.  In 2012, a revision for the Greater Grand Rapids Hazard Mitigation Plan (GGRHMP) was approved by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency).  The plan is a joint effort between Kent County, Ottawa County and the city of Grand Rapids to identify risks and vulnerabilities of potential hazards.  

Kent County just started the Kent County Citizen Preparedness Program.  This is a twelve month program that focuses on a different area of emergency preparedness each month.  It is specifically designed to be understandable to Kent County residents and addresses various action plans in the face of emergency in West Michigan.  Monthly fact sheets are available at the Kent County Sheriff Department and the American Red Cross of Greater Grand Rapids.  

Grand Rapids may be a stranger to hurricanes and tsunamis, but it is comforting to know that our county is taking aggressive measures that will protect and prepare us for any natural disasters headed our way.