Disaster Experience Leads To National Appointment - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

10/17/05 - Nacogdoches

Disaster Experience Leads To National Appointment

by Donna McCollum

The Columbia disaster taught Nacogdoches County emergency responders a lot of lessons. Many were used during the Hurricane Katrina and Rita response. Now, Sheriff Thomas Kerss has been appointed to a national task force to help other communities plan for unforeseen disasters.

Preparation is the beginning. Before the arrival of thousands of Gulf Coastal residents, Sheriff Kerss anticipated a fuel shortage. He reserved fuel for emergency vehicles with the local distributor. When power outages led to an ice shortage, he asked poultry distributors to provide residents ice from their refrigerated trucks. These are just two examples of the "can do" spirit Nacogdoches County took before federal help arrived. "It's getting some common sense answers in place. Maybe providing answers that other communities haven't thought of," said the sheriff.

Kerss wants to share with the National Task Force For Community Preparedness and Response that not all answers lie with federal agencies. "It's trying to show others how to examine what their own community holds and what resources can they draft from that particular area first before they worry about trying to pull outside resources in," said Kerss.

Kerss pointed out a willingness to help is essential. He said local small town grocery stores shut down due to power outages were willing to keep freezers going with generators in order to distribute ice to residents. That willingness to "help out" goes a long way, said Kerss.

Kerss points out 911, not the White House, is called during a time of need. The first to arrive and the last to leave are local responders, so they had better have a plan and know how to implement it. "If you don't communicate, you can have the best plan in the world, and if you fail to communicate that plan, then no one knows how to act it out."

Kerss is wanting to contribute what went right and what went wrong with Nacogdoches County's plan so better ideas can be developed before the next disaster.

Work on improving local involvement with federal agencies begins right away. Sheriff Kerss is scheduled to be in Washington D.C. next month.

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