Emergency plans for Baldwin City will be tweaked
Is Baldwin City prepared for a Hurricane Katrina type disaster? Council Member Nancy Brown, the chairperson of the safety committee, hopes so.
Baldwin was the first non-Lawrence community in Douglas County to prepare an emergency management plan. It was adopted by the Baldwin City Council last spring and Douglas County Emergency Preparedness Director Paula Phillips was pleased with the forward thinking.
"For several years, one goal of the Public Safety and Health Committee has been to assure that the City of Baldwin City has a practical and comprehensive community emergency management plan," said Brown. "Last spring, the city council adopted the first edition of such a plan, which dovetails with the Douglas County emergency plan.
"The Community Emergency Management Plan is a guideline for city departments on first response to emergency events," she said. "It also includes lists of resources available within the community, from neighboring cities and from Douglas County. This plan is intended to help us, as a community, begin response and rescue efforts immediately, and sustain them until county or mutual aid resources become available."
But, Hurricane Katrina changed everything in regards to emergencies. It opened a lot of eyes and that included Baldwin's emergency planners.
"The emergency plan, as currently adopted, has no specific guidelines for evacuation, because the probability of need is very small," said Brown. "Since we generate our own power and can work from either power plant, lack of electricity is only a short-term issue.
"Water might be a concern after a couple of days, but the fire department is going to change their SOPs to make sure they don't run the water towers dry fighting fires, as happened in Galveston, which will buy us some extra time," she said.
The evacuation issue is a tough one for Baldwin, where tornadoes are the main concern from Mother Nature. They don't slowly prod toward the city limits as has been witnessed with the recent hurricanes. But, the safety committee did discuss possible evacuation scenarios in the wake of Katrina and Rita.
"There really aren't any predictable events that would require or allow a pre-event evacuation of town," said Brown. "Post-event, anyone displaced from their home should still be able to find shelter in town, at one of the schools, university, church buildings or in private homes.
"The only thing any of us could come up with -- and all of us did -- that might require evacuation would be a hazmat spill on the highway," she said. "In such a situation, they type of material, location of event, wind direction and speed, and other weather conditions would determine the choice of full or partial evacuation or shelter-in-place,"
The chances of an entire evacuation are so small that the committee wasn't too worried. Plus, if needed, it could be done painlessly.
"The consensus among the department heads was that because we have four exit routes from town and would be unlikely to have to move the entire population, a relatively orderly evacuation would be possible, using the police department for direction," said Brown.
The committee will have an exercise of the plan in late October. The evacuation issue is expected to be among the changes in the current plan.
"After the exercise on Oct. 25, I expect us to include a section on evacuation among the tweaks to the plan, primarily tasking the police department as the directing agency for removal and identifying resources for transport of those unable to leave town on their own," said Brown. "It occurs to me that we get over 25,000 people in and out of town on Maple Leaf Saturday, mostly in carloads of four or fewer, with no major incidents.
"So, getting all 4,000-plus of us out of town with care, direction and carpooling should be possible," she said. "It is possible that the training exercise will give us the chance to figure it out in more detail, as we don't know what Paula Phillips has in store for us."
The current plan is available for anyone to review. However, there are expected tweaks after the October exercise. Eventually, the plan will be available online.
"You can review the plan at City Hall during regular business hours or obtain a copy for a small copying fee," Brown said. "At some point, we expect to have the plan posted on the city's Web site, but a completion date for that is not yet available."
The city's Web site is at www.baldwincity.org. There is a link to it from the Signal's Web site at www.baldwincity.com.