Debra Gilbert, Disaster and Emergency Services Coordinator, and I were privileged to be presenters at the Emergency Management Forum in Helena at the beginning of this month.
The Forum is organized by the Montana Department of Military Affairs, Disaster and Emergency Services Division. It brings together people working in a wide variety of organizations and roles to provide disaster and emergency services. There were people from all across Montana, from state agencies, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, from the North Dakota DES, from private relief agencies, and from industry.
The Forum was held for 3 days. Debra and I presented on Day 2. The theme of that day was Mutual Aid. I presented a paper that I wrote for the Forum titled, “Guide to Montana Mutual Aid Statutes .” Montana has over a dozen mutual aid statutes, and this has been a source for confusion and obstacles in achieving mutual aid during disasters and emergencies. My presentation surveyed the many statutes and simplified the process of using the right statute in the right way to make mutual aid happen.
Debra led a panel discussion on mutual aid, “Neighbors Helping Neighbors.” The discussion was of a very practical, rubber-meets-the-road nature and engaged the Forum with actual real-world examples. The session was especially helpful because, like so many when they first take on DES positions in county government, at first she says she had little idea what she was supposed to do. She charted a course for digging in, discovering the role, forming networks, and making mutual aid happen.
Unlike many such meetings, this Forum was productive in that we accumulated a list of action points and projects to pursue. Debra and I are working on interstate mutual aid agreement templates which can be so important to our own county because we are right on the border with North Dakota. We also learned the value of assembling an inventory of disaster and emergency assets for ourselves and to share with neighboring counties and the state DES.