Natural and weather-related incidents, power outages and even pandemics can affect health and safety in all communities and the Geauga County Department of Emergency Services is prepared to respond to all of them.
Roger Peterson, director of Emergency Services of Geauga County, spoke Nov. 11 to members of the Geauga County Township Association at the Centerville Mills Park dining hall in Bainbridge. Mr. Peterson is a 15-year Bloomfield Township Trustee in Trumbull County.
This preparedness came through this past weekend when a storm hit Northeast Ohio downing trees, damaging homes and leaving hundreds of families without electricity.
The emergency services agency, located on Merritt Road in Claridon Township, is involved in teaching, planning, preparing and assisting in natural, manmade and technological emergencies in the county, according to Mr. Peterson. The department has been responding to situations including the COVID-19 pandemic and helping area nursing homes and assisted living facilities with stocking up on supplies and training for the pandemic.
“This is all about pre-planning, and not in the middle of the night,” he said of the goal to save lives and prevent property loss. Mr. Peterson has experience as a firefighter, nurse and paramedic.
Bainbridge Trustee Lorrie Benza, president of the Geauga County Township Association, said everyone can learn from his experiences. “Roger brings a unique perspective to helping townships because he has been a township trustee himself. He understands issues confronted by township trustees.”
The scenarios and practices of the emergency management department are invaluable to the communities, she noted.
The work he does in the emergency management department and the services he provides for the townships all comes together providing benefits for Geauga County residents, according to Mrs. Benza.
The agency helps individual townships build their own plans and as an example, it has put together an emergency communications and operations plan for Bainbridge, she added. Every year in January the Bainbridge trustees ask the members of the police, fire and service departments to review the plans and any changes are coordinated with Mr. Peterson.
In February of 2019, power was lost in Bainbridge and township personnel worked with the plan and the department of emergency management on how services would be provided to a local assisted living facility.
They also work on plans to respond in emergency situations when roads are not passable.
To have a plan for emergencies, operations and communications is very important for residents,” Mrs. Benza said. She noted the township has redundant communication systems in place to be prepared for communications failures in the county.
Mr. Peterson told those at the Nov. 11 event, “We have a list of people in the county who would need services.” They are the fragile, ill, handicapped and other individuals with special needs, he said. “We acquire information from other agencies. And people can fill out a special needs card.”
As an example, he said, “If the power is out, we can help compile a list of who would need help in the county.” If individuals are on oxygen concentrators and lose power, the agency can help with notifying area fire departments, he noted.
There is a county drone team and the department of emergency services works with the Geauga County Sheriff’s Department. The team can search for missing people, lost hunters as well as chemical spills and natural gas leaks.
The agency is also involved in shelter coordination with the Red Cross, providing warming shelters during emergencies and power outages. It works with the Red Cross to coordinate equipment, supplies and personnel. Volunteers are involved in managing such efforts, Mr. Peterson noted.
If there is a need in an area to evacuate, the agency can give information as to where there is safe shelter, working with local police and fire departments and the Red Cross, he said. Last January, there was a significant power and water outage at a local mobile home community in the county. “We worked to get residents into safe shelter in a local church,” Mr. Peterson said.
“There is a local emergency planning committee out of our department made up of county and industry volunteers. We help outfit the hazardous materials response team of Geauga County and assist with getting them training and monitor after action reports for spills. If chemical suits or spills supplies are needed, our agency supplies them,” he said. The agency receives a stipend from the state and can also recover costs from those responsible for the spills.
As an example, he noted, if there is a transport carrier, such as a truck from out of town in a spill situation, the agency gets the information together and “We send the bill to the insurance company of that carrier. We help recover the costs for your community,” Mr. Peterson said.
“We have all the contact numbers, such as for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. If there is a fuel spill, “We call agencies and we help out,” he said. “We help coordinate the information and make sure the fire and police departments have all that information.”
One of the important pre-planning exercises involves “table-top” exercises, covering possible incidents such as evacuation of nursing homes or an emergency at the county fairgrounds. “We get all the important stakeholders together sitting around the table. We give the scenarios and we talk about them and consider all the possibilities,” he said.
Police and fire department personnel and trustees come together, or even those in a large factory gather, to talk about what to do in situations such as a chemical spill or a tornado. “We pose potential problems and help them work through the issues. We recently did a fuel oil spill as a drill at Geauga Hospital,” Mr. Peterson said.
“We had facilities and local responders involved to track down where the diesel spill would go. It was a practical exercise,” he said.
The agency works with police and fire chiefs and administrators of the nursing homes, coordinating table-top exercises. They talk through how they would transfer medications, medical records and other information involving the care of a patient, Mr. Peterson said.
“We have involved all of the nursing homes in the county,” he noted. “We can work together and figure out how to do this.” It’s about networking and team building, according to Mr. Peterson.
“On an average year, we work with about 800 people trained in disaster preparedness in health care and public safety, training them,” he said.
“Efforts to maintain public safety in this county have been amazing with people working together. Law enforcement and fire departments have an amazing cooperation and they are all there for the people of Geauga County. It makes it a pleasure to work with them,” Mr. Peterson said.
As an example, the emergency management department has been involved with South Russell Village, he said, noting that “South Russell Mayor Bill Koons has done a fantastic job along with village Police Chief Michael Rizzo on emergency preparedness in the village.”
The emergency management agency also works with faith-based organizations such as churches on how to prepare for disasters and prepare facilities for disasters, protecting their congregation and reaching out to the community, he said. “Fire departments and churches know their communities the best, and that is where we can get our information from.”
Work has been done as well with the Amish population in the county on safety procedures. “It’s all about networking, and developing relationships,” Mr. Peterson said. “It shows the importance of getting to know people, talking and networking.
“Our outreach education in safety and emergency management planning is far reaching, whether for communities, businesses, private agencies or churches,” Mr. Peterson said.