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‘Getting arms around chaos’

By Jim Haug Herald staff writer

So how well could Durango function without a City Hall? Would there be continuity in government if the core of operations shut down because of a disastrous circumstance?

“Where will the City Council meetings be held?” pondered Sherri Dugdale, the city’s public information officer. “Where will operations move to?”

These are the kinds of questions that a training exercise will try to answer sometime next month. It was not immediately known for how long or when City Hall might be closed because plans are still tentative.

But the idea is for local officials to “get your arms around chaos,” said Durango Police Chief Jim Spratlen.

Because the region is so remote, local officials anticipate they must be self-sufficient for at least three days before they could count on a significant state and national response.

Locally, a multiagency group – the Southwest Incident Management Team, which was certified in December 2012 as a Type 3 Response Team – could coordinate a local response if a disaster overwhelmed one government agency or town. Known by the initials as the SWIM Team, it also could be recruited to go elsewhere in the nation as responders.

The group represents a cross-section of disciplines, including the Durango Police Department, Durango Fire & Rescue Authority, the U.S. Forest Service, the San Juan Health Department and neighboring sheriff’s offices in Colorado and New Mexico.

The La Plata Sheriff’s Office is not listed as an official member of SWIM for reasons of certification, but the local Sheriff’s Office still would be involved in response efforts, Spratlen said.

If the disaster proved too much for local resources, Spratlen said SWIM could assess the situation and give direction to a bigger state and national Type 1 or Type 2 response effort.

Local elected officials also would be expected to give policy direction to professional response teams coming from outside the region, such as advising about how to organize evacuations or ration gas.

Outlawing ammunition still seems to be outside the realm of imagination for the West, but it does happen in some eastern states during disasters, said Todd Manns, owner of The Blue Cell, which provides training in emergency operations.

Manns on Tuesday gave a class about the nation’s incident command system to county commissioners and the City Council. He told them they would be delegating authority, but not responsibility because local officials would be stuck with the consequences of a disaster response long after state or national crews have moved on.

Pressure also has increased on authorities because of the power of social media, but Twitter and Facebook also has made it much easier to get information out to the public. Wrong information is easier to correct.

Recalling Hurricane Katrina, Manns did not think a local official would ever be caught again not knowing whether a levee broke.

jhaug@durangoherald.com

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