Ellis County Emergency Operations Plan Under Review

The Ellis County Commissioners Court held a workshop on Friday, July 20, 2012 to discuss changes to Ellis County’s Emergency Operations Plan. Joe Stewart, Fire Marshall and Emergency Manager, made the presentation to the Court.

“The Emergency Operations Plan is required by the State of Texas to identify four basic areas, preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation,” Stewart explained. “It is important for the County to have a Plan that is in compliance with the State standards, because that makes us eligible for grants, should they become available.”

The State provides templates as a starting point in developing and enacting a plan. According to Stewart, parts of the templates reflect mandatory provisions, while others are discretionary. It is up to individual communities to tailor the discretionary portions of their plans to fit their community needs. The law requires that the Emergency Operations Plan and the Annexes should be reviewed for any necessary changes or modifications every five years.

Ellis County adopted the most current EOP in 2011, but recent changes in the law combined with the number of Annexes due for review at the same time prompted Stewart to initiate the review process. In his opinion, the review dates should be staggered to allow for more focused analysis on each section. His goal is to review several Annexes this year, and continue the same process in the future. Staggering the reviews will streamline the process.

“Annex U is one of the most critical Annexes, because several other Annexes tie back into it,” explained Stewart. Annex U is designed to provide potential plans to meet legal issues that may arise before, during or after a disaster or public safety hazard has occurred.

Burn bans and the use of fireworks is one area covered by this Annex. Stewart noted that there has been confusion concerning burn bans and whether the County can also ban fireworks. According to the Local Government Code, the County can only ban fireworks when the Keetch-Byram Drought Index is 575 or greater. The Index has to be at that amount on June 15 before the Court has any authority to ban fireworks. If the Index is less than 575, the County has no authority to ban fireworks for the Fourth of July.

“Last year, the Governor declared the State to be a disaster because of the drought,” Stewart said. “Because we were under a State Disaster Declaration, fireworks were also banned.” Stewart contrasted the drought conditions from 2011 to 2012. “This year, we were not under a Disaster Declaration, and the Keetch-Byram Drought Index was at only 430, well below the prescribed requirement.”

The Emergency Powers of the Commissioners Court was also discussed. Although the State templates recommend that the County regulate flammable products, explosives, firearms and alcoholic beverages during an emergency, it is not a requirement. “I suggest that we strike these provisions from our Plan,” Stewart said. “I do not foresee any circumstance where the County Commissioners or Judge would need to ban or prohibit these items, especially since they are not required by the Government Code.”

Stewart explained that his next step was to visit with the Cities and other governmental entities to seek their feedback on the Plan. His goal is to obtain approval from these entities and ensure that all involved support the Plan and that it works seamlessly with their own procedures.

“The Plan is a toolbox,” Stewart said. “We want to make sure that we have our tools sharpened and ready to use in the case of an emergency.”

The Commissioners took time to commend Stewart for the work done to update the Emergency Operations Plan and his efforts to gain consensus from community partners.