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County updates emergency plans; works on text alerts


Cape Girardeau County has recently
updated its emergency preparedness plans and has made other changes related to
safety, including new coordination with 911 and the emergency management
department and future implementation of a alert communication system between
the county and residents.


The new emergency preparedness plan,
which was approved by the County Commission on July 22, was converted into an
Emergency Support Function (ESF) format to match the federal and state
government plans. The Cities of Jackson and Cape Girardeau also use the ESF
format.


Emergency Management Director Mark
Winkler said the process of converting the plan took a year and all primary coordinators
reviewed the plan before the Commission approved the plan
.

Winkler said the plan could, and
probably would, change as time goes on. “It’s a dynamic document,” he said.
“From what I have here on the table, it could change in five minutes. That’s
just the nature of the plan, but it’s an umbrella from which the county
operates.”


In conjunction with the new plan,
every county office received a flip chart with information on what to do in the
event of an emergency. “We also put together some nice eye-catchy posters that
we are going to put up,” Winkler said, adding the posters will be utilized in
the new Justice Center when it opens next spring.

“Along with the emergency plan, we
are trying to take some of the load off of the 911 center during an emergency
situation, to lessen their calls,” Winkler said. “We’re going to have the 911
center route emergency calls that Emergency Management should be coordinating
like trees down on the roads and power lines being down.”


The county’s 911 CAD (computer-aided
dispatch) system will now send e-mails to Winkler’s Emergency Management
office, which will send the information to the appropriate supervisor. Winkler
said during the windstorm in Jackson on June 21, it was hard for county workers
to know what was going on and where assistance was needed. “Now we’re having a
more coordinated effort,” he said.


Winkler also said his office is
currently working on a revamp and public push to have residents of the county
sign up for RAVE alerts, which would further solve communication issues
throughout the county. The RAVE Alert System is an online service the county
has a contract with that can send text messages, e-mails and voice messages to
those who sign up.


Residents can opt in to get
emergency weather alerts, as well as other county messages including road
closures, siren testing reminders and the closings of county offices. Winkler
explained that some weather alerts are automatically sent whenever the National
Weather Service issues them, while the majority of alerts will be sent by the
Emergency Management Department.


“We can also set it up so that if
you get our messages, we can send out a message that says, ‘Are you injured?’
or ‘Have you had damage?’ and if you answer yes, we can get your GPS location,”
Winkler said. “In a perfect world where everyone in the county signs up, we can
actually pinpoint where damages are and know where to go.”


Winkler said the county currently
has a three-year contract to use RAVE alerts, but it was previously
under-utilized. There are currently less than 400 people signed up for the
alerts, most of whom are county employees.

Winkler added that the emergency
preparedness process was “contagious,” with the County Clerk’s Office
developing plans for each polling place in the county. Signage will be at every
voting precinct during future elections, letting voters and poll workers know
how to respond to various emergency situations.

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past four years. He can be reached at cbjedit@socket.net.

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