Op Ed
September 16, 2005

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Imagining the unimaginable:
Emergency preparedness in Missouri

by Barry Speert

As bad as things have gotten with the shoddy play of the Kansas City Royals this past year, it would be hard to imagine things getting much worse at Kauffman Stadium. Contemplating that very thought however is what kept emergency planners busy throughout the state of Missouri one sun-shiny day in August.

The same day the Royals broke their previous record of ineptitude by losing their 18th game in a row, the state of Missouri staged a practice drill in which it was imagined that a “dirty bomb” with radioactive particles had been detonated at the stadium. In actuality, the worst blow struck was a grand slam off the bat of a Seattle Mariner infielder.

Emergency drills are becoming more and more common across the state. While some involve placing public health and safety personnel out in the community to engage in simulated activities, others, such as the Kauffman Stadium exercise, are limited to table-top reviews. Scenarios range from natural disasters to terrorist attacks.

It is the belief of Gov. Matt Blunt and his administration that lessons learned in these exercises would make a big difference in a real crisis by saving lives and minimizing property damage. Somewhat surprisingly, in the time that Blunt has been governor, his reforms in this area have received little public attention.
For instance, few Missourians realize that Blunt has actually downgraded the state’s homeland security operation and removed it from the status of a cabinet level department, where it had been under Gov. Holden. Homeland security is now a part of the state’s public safety department and the director no longer reports directly to the governor.

Just the opposite occurred at the national level when the Federal Emergency Management Agency was absorbed into Homeland Security under President Bush and lost the cabinet rank it previously had. The flawed response to Hurricane Katrina shows the unintended consequences that consolidation of governmental entities can have.
Days prior to Michael Brown’s resignation as the head of FEMA, Michael Chapman resigned as head of Homeland Security in Missouri. Whereas Brown’s qualifications came into serious question following Hurricane Katrina, Chapman’s qualifications were not at issue as much as the scaled down authority that this state agency now has.

Further evidence of this is the statement issued by Public Safety Department spokesperson Terri Durdaller following Chapman’s resignation indicating there are “no immediate plans to search for a replacement.” Department director Mark James is expected to handle homeland security responsibilities himself for the foreseeable future.
James, a Liberty, MO native with extensive law enforcement experience, has already been at work heading up Gov. Blunt’s homeland security advisory council that is scheduled to produce a comprehensive emergency preparedness plan by Jan. 1, 2006. This plan will replace the current plan that dates back to the Holden administration.

The Blunt plan is expected to be more detailed in provisions dealing with the procurement and spending of homeland security funds. According to published reports, Missouri received nearly $50 million in homeland security grants from the federal government this year, which is about one-third less than was received in 2004.

Much of the money allocated to Missouri for homeland security has been used for interoperable equipment designed to maintain multi-agency and multi-jurisdictional communications in emergency situations. Hurricane Katrina served as a grim reminder of what can happen when this technology is either not present or not in working order.
Citizens concerned with the direction emergency preparedness is taking in Missouri have an opportunity to make their voices heard through the review process that is currently underway. Public liaisons have been appointed to the council and can be reached through the official web site at www.homelandsecurity.mo.gov.
On the other side of the state line, while not ordering a comprehensive review, Gov. Sebelius has asked emergency planners in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to devise a plan that would help Kansans evacuate a targeted area that might otherwise not be able to do so because of a physical handicap or the lack of personal transportation.

Barry Speert is a freelance writer and radio and TV commentator. He can be contacted at barryspeeert@aol.com.


              
              
                 

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