by | Sep 10, 2011 | Community, Features

A cold front is barreling south from Canada and has met with the warm humidity funneled up to Arkansas from the Gulf of Mexico. The contrasting masses of air converge on the River Valley region of Arkansas as a collective group of citizens stand as sentinels, watching and waiting.
A energy builds in the darkening skies, rotation is detected… and that’s when the call comes from the National Weather Service. A tornado warning has been issued. The message is sent to the pope County 911 dispatch and immediately all directors of Emergency Services are called and placed on standby. Simultaneously all on duty Emergency Services workers are notified by radio and the entire collection of Emergency workers in Pope County is on alert, things could turn bad in a split second.
Pope county is not so lucky on this spring afternoon. The call from a distraught citizen into 911 reports a twister touchdown in the southeastern section of the City of Russellville and all units of Pope County Emergency Services are dispatched to perform their particular duties.
As Pope County deputies and city police help to divert traffic from the affected area, the EMTs are assisting injured. Russellville firemen are busy moving debris while Search and Rescue workers check with each households for injured or missing members. Like a well-oiled machine, Pope County Emergency Services is a model of efficiency in the midst of chaos.

Since its inception in 2004, National Emergency Preparedness month has been observed each September. Sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) within the Department of Homeland Security, Emergency Preparedness Month encourages Americans to take simple steps in preparation for any number of emergencies that could occur in their homes or communities. The campaign is designed to educate Americans, a proactive approach to dealing with anything from a household emergency to a natural disaster.
The motto for the year 2011 is, “A Time To Remember, A Time to Prepare” – words well chosen on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attack in New York and the Pentagon. Emergency Preparedness Month seems like a good time to discuss the organizations and people that stand at the ready for emergencies all year long.

911 – these three numbers carry so much weight, so much urgency, and so much hope. At the instant that these digits are pressed, there is the possibility that life or death hangs in the balance. As the fictional scene at the beginning of this article demonstrated, everything starts with that first call to 911. Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Communications Captain Denise Robinson gave a rundown on the responsibilities of a 911 dispatcher.
“I think that most people don’t realize all that the dispatchers do. Every single time that an emergency is responded to, it started with a call to one of these dispatchers.”
Robinson believes that the importance of dispatch is sometimes overlooked. “Dispatchers operate behind the scenes so to speak but they are a critical link in the chain. Everybody knows exactly what firemen do and the sight of a big red truck is instant notification that they are on the job. But the firemen or police came to the rescue only because the dispatcher did their job.”
The 911 dispatchers are housed in a building in front of the Pope County Detention Center. The structure is referred to as “the molehill” by OEM workers and as “the bunker” by most folks in the community.
“Bunker is a good description,” explained Robinson. “It’s built to withstand whatever is thrown at it. In the event of an epic catastrophe, all of the heads of the Emergency Services would meet here and the building is locked down. It’s partially in the ground and is reinforced with thick concrete walls providing protection from tornados or even a problem at Arkansas Nuclear One.” All directors manage their teams from the “bunker” when large-scale disasters happen.

Of course events on a scale large enough to warrant the gathering of department heads into a central location are thankfully rare. It’s the daily call-ins that keep Emergency workers busy.
Again it all starts with the call to 911, and from there, a number of departments could respond.
“It depends upon the type of emergency,” stated Robinson. “In the case of an auto accident, the first person there could be a first responder, an EMT, a police officer, or even a fireman. It just depends on who gets there first, but once the EMTs arrive, the other departments fall into other jobs at the scene. The police direct traffic, the firemen may help with that or assist in extracting people from a damaged vehicle.”
“Our Search and Rescue team is called upon if we need a water rescue or in the event of a lost hunter or hiker. The coroner is also a part of the team – though the need for his duties is the least favorite part of our job, it’s still a service that we need.”
There are many organizations that are involved with the scope of Emergency Services but are not part of a government agency, explained Robinson.

“We call these types of organizations non-governmental; they play a vital part as well. The Red Cross and the Salvation Army are two of these entities. We also get some help from a few local churches. They fall under the direction of the Red Cross when an emergency happens.”
While Robinson recognizes September has been officially declared as Emergency Preparedness Month, being prepared is a state that all citizens should be in regardless of the month.
“The Office of Emergency Management wants the people of Pope County and the River Valley to always be aware of what to do in the case of an Emergency. To make that happen we have literature available at the Pope County Courthouse all the time.”
The OEM makes a point to be active in the community while campaigning for awareness, as well. Justin Drittler, Assistant Director of the Office of Emergency Management, spoke about the public programs available.
“We often do demonstrations and speak to the students at the local schools. All we need is an invitation to visit with students or even other groups. We’re more than happy to explain about how OEM or Search and Rescue work. You can see some of our workers passing out literature at the county fair or we might have an emergency awareness program in the parking lot of a local business from time to time.”

As we mark the 10-year anniversary of one of the most infamous days in the history of our country – Sept. 11, 2001 – the need for preparedness in the face of disaster seems even more poignant.
While we all hope and pray that nothing approaching the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York ever happens again, we may certainly face other large scale emergencies, such as hurricanes and tornados, home and business fires, auto accidents or even accidents occurring while working or playing. The key to efficiency and, in some cases our mortal safety, lies in preparedness.
A time to remember, a time to prepare is something we need to keep in mind throughout the year. For more information, visit www.ready.gov.


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