Baldwin emergency plans to the forefront
A day after city, county and community officials discussed how they would work together if a tornado struck Baldwin City, Parsons was facing the scenario in real life.
"I think Parsons was an affirmation that you have to have a plan and that other communities will be there to help you," said City Administrator Larry Paine.
Representatives from Baldwin City's fire, police and utilities department; Baker University; Baldwin Care Center; the American Red Cross; Douglas County Emergency Services; Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical and the Sheriff's department met Tuesday afternoon to discuss the roles each would play in an emergency situation.
"This is evidently the first time in 10 years or longer there has been any interest or exercises for emergency planning in Baldwin," Paine said. "From that standpoint, it's a good thing we did that. Whether we have an emergency or not, we are better able to handle it than we were two weeks ago."
The discussion was led by Paula Phillips, of Douglas County Emergency Management. Paine said the scenario they faced was a tornado running through Baldwin from the southwest part of town to northwest Baldwin, causing damage to Baker University, schools and residences.
"If something happens in Baldwin City, Baldwin City is responsible," Paine said. "The other agencies assist. They are not in charge.
"We need to have an immediate assessment of damaged areas. We need to secure utilities that may cause further damage, such as fire, electrocution and gas leaks."
Paine said one of the questions asked by Phillips was, "Where would Baldwin City set up a command center in the event of an emergency?"
"We don't have a good plan," Paine said, adding that the fire department would be an option. "One of the biggest problem areas is communication. Telephone lines will be down. Cell phones will likely be clogged using the available space on towers. We probably don't have enough radio communication to be able to talk to everybody.
"We have to go and develop a plan for the community. Nobody has told me that there is one, therefore we will build one."
Paine said the group focused on an emergency situation caused by a tornado, because of the likelihood of it happening.
"One type of emergency more common than another would be winds or a tornado," he said. "The other would be hazardous material. We don't know what goes up and down highway 56."
He said the discussion was probably most informative to those who are not trained for emergency situations.
"They all train for those sorts of things in a regular and routine way," Paine said of law enforcement and medical representatives attending the meeting. "Disaster management is not part of a city administrator's curriculum."
One of the first things Baldwin City would do in the event of an emergency is ask for help, Paine said. City staff assisted Ottawa following a microburst there last summer. Jim Tarwater, city inspector and zoning administrator, went to Parsons following last Wednesday's tornado for building assessments.
"We will continue to help other communities out," Paine said. "If you don't give help, it won't be returned.
"The one thing I learned is you can never be prepared for everything."