DARKE COUNTY — Floods. Tornadoes. Violence. Drought. Epidemics.
While not issues we would often like to think about, they all could happen right here, and in some cases have happened, in our portion of Western Ohio.
To best prepare for the proverbial “worst case scenario,” the Darke County Hazard Mitigation Committee has been gathering once a month at the Darke County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) building since December 2017, working to revise the county’s existing 5-year Hazard Mitigation Plan to reflect today’s threats, natural or manmade.
The plan was last updated in 2011 and will be subsequently reviewed and approved by the State of Ohio EMA and by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). The plan is aimed not only to help identify potential hazards for responding agencies, but will aid the county in obtaining state and federal grant money for recovery in the event a disaster does occur.
According to Mike Henderson of Mote and Associates, who is heading the meetings, the committee hopes to wrap up its work within the next few months.
“The goal is to write the plan in March or April, then there will be a public comment period where we let people look at it and if there’s any comments, we have them add changes before we send it on to the Ohio EMA. Then once the Ohio EMA looks at it, they may have some comments for us to cover, then it gets sent over to FEMA, then they will approve the final plan,” he said.
Henderson said once the final plan has received FEMA approval, each municipality in the county, including the City of Greenville, all villages and all townships, will be asked to pass resolutions to adopt the plan.
“Without them adopting the plan, they are officially not in the plan,” he said. “Once we get the final approval from FEMA, we have a year to gather up all the resolutions.”
Henderson showed that from 2012 to 2017, properties within the county suffered more than $408,000 in losses due to wind, tornadoes or floods. Yet while floods and tornadoes are the most likely disasters to strike the county’s homes and businesses, the plan must also take into account potential agricultural losses from natural disasters.
Henderson showed the county’s 1,693 farms have more than $550 million in value, and a serious drought, late freeze, insect infestation or crop or animal disease could wreak havoc financially.
The increased threat of violence is also an issue being addressed in the new plan.
Darke County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Mark Whittaker discussed the issues his agency faces from potential acts of terrorism, primarily at large events held at places like Eldora Speedway or the Darke County Fair. He pointed to the increase in the number of attendees at such events since the plan was last revised.
“It takes more resources to manage and those resources are on a lot of levels,” he said. “Due to increased threats of violence across the United States, it has become mandatory for first responders to spend more time planning for larger special events. We spend hours developing communications plans, evaluating, assessing.”
Whittaker said deputies have begun using bomb-sniffing dogs at such heavily attended events.
“The things that have happened in the last 10 years or more in society, caused us to do a lot more things that we’d never done before,” he said. “It’s making us better first responders, though, I’ll tell you that.”
Henderson said input from the county’s agencies, leaders, businesses, and especially the public is vital to making the plan as comprehensive as possible.
“The more detail we capture, the more accurate it is, not only for us in Darke County, but it is for the State of Ohio, for their plan as well,” he said. “We have a role to play, not only locally, but as a state, too.”
The Darke County Hazard Mitigation Plan Committee will next meet at 10 a.m. Wednesday, March 21 at the EMA building. The meetings are open to the public, and their input on this topic is encouraged.
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