"Agricultural Traditions Meet Modern Day Hazards" with Clinton County EMA
Robin was joined by Thomas Breckel, Director of Clinton County EMA in Ohio to discuss rural emergency management. In Clinton County, incidents from tornados to chemical fires almost always impact agriculture and livestock.
What makes Clinton County unique?
Located in Southwest Ohio, one of the unique things about Clinton County is that they have some very rural areas and traditions that are just a short distance from metropolitan areas such as Cincinnati, Dayton, and Columbus. Clinton County is situated at the end of the tornado alley and they’ve had their fair share of tornadoes, but thankfully not in recent years. More recently, last Spring there was the threat of a derecho which is a widespread, long-lived, straight-line wind storm that is associated with a fast-moving group of severe thunderstorms. Derechos are known to cause severe damage to agriculture and crop harvest.
Clinton County is approximately 95% rural and 5% urban. Their biggest population centers there are the city of Wilmington, followed by the village of Blanchester, and thirdly the village of Sabina. In terms of land coverage, about 69% is used for cultivated crops, a further 15% is forest and 7% is pasture/ hay.
Dealing with a commercial airport and potential incidents
In the late 1940s, the US Air Force constructed an air force base in Clinton County as part of their Strategic Air Command. Clinton County was a prime location for the airbase due to its rural nature. The base primarily supported Air Force Reserve flight operations and training.
In 1972, the base was decommissioned and repurposed as a commercial airport, Wilmington Air Park. One of the airport’s largest clients is Amazon, with multiple cargo flights operating every day. Like with any large industrial center, Clinton County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) needs to consider and prepare for all of the potential incidents that could arise at the airport in order to ensure the safety of the residents of Clinton County.
Another consideration is the large amount of truck traffic which is generated from the transportation of aviation fuel. Any incident related to hazardous materials at the airport could also affect their water supply as the county’s watershed is located nearby. They work with various partners to monitor any threats closely.
Agricultural chemical storage, transport, and pipelines
The county also has several large storage sites for agricultural chemicals which are used to prepare and fertilize the ground. These chemicals can be hazardous in the undiluted state in which they are stored. The EMA makes sure that they have good safety measures in place and prepares plans for potential incidents.
With the Interstate 71 highway running straight through the State of Ohio, trucks, and transportation are a potential hazard for the county. They also have about 8 different pipelines crossing it that haul fuel and natural gasses heading from the North to the South of the country. They also deal with extremely hazardous flammable shipments by rail.
Staffing a small rural EMA
Thomas is the full-time Director of Clinton County EMA, there is just one other member of paid staff at the EMA who looks after the accounts and volunteer coordination part-time. When a crisis happens, the EMA will bring in volunteers that come from a variety of organizations - both affiliated and non-affiliated.
For example, the American Red Cross would be an affiliated organization. Non-affiliated volunteers would be more spontaneous and respond when called upon through public outlets. It’s important that the EMA ensures these volunteers are properly equipped and aware of the hazards. The EMA will then assign them to an area or a team to work with. This prevents some communities from being overserved and others underserved during an emergency.
Clinton County EMA’s checkpoint status board
Thomas was kind enough to show us around the EMA’s own D4H Incident Management account. We took a look at a recent tabletop exercise they ran with local fire chiefs of a chemical warehouse fire. One of the items to be tracked was checkpoints. Thomas had already created a custom status board to track the exact information they required and formatted it in such a way that they could quickly and clearly see an overview of which checkpoints were ‘Manned’, ‘Unnmanned’, or ‘Not in Place’, with these appearing in green, amber, and red respectively.
The status board also tracks the location of each checkpoint, this auto-fills onto their incident map, giving a clear overview and sense of situational awareness. Having overlayed an image of the incident plume, they can track its spread in relation to checkpoints and any other information tracked on their various status boards.
Sharing by ‘Secret Public Link’ in D4H Incident Management
Clinton County EMA has made great use of D4H Incident Management’s ‘Share by Public Link’ feature. This feature has proved extremely useful for sharing relevant information to specific people without having to grant them access to the entire incident. For example, the incident situation report can be shared and used to make decisions, make notifications and write press releases. Clicking ‘Share by Public Link’ creates a secret URL, that can be shared with anyone the EMA is coordinating with and will display all of the information from that specific page. Refreshing the page will show any new information that has been added in D4H Incident Management.
Using D4H to track historical sites and critical infrastructure impacted
Thomas has imported all of the various historical sites, cemeteries, and hospitals in Clinton County into D4H Incident Management and tracked them on the map. That way, when they begin to track an incident such as a tornado they can have a clear idea of which areas might have been impacted. This allows them to notify the relevant person or authority that they may need to conduct a damage assessment on their site.
Digital forms in D4H
Along with all the relevant ICS forms, Thomas has also built out the EMA’s Rapid Assessment Form. They must complete this form for the State of Ohio for any EOC activation. He has linked sections of the form to their Situation Report so that the information automatically draws in, saving him from typing the same information in multiple places. From there, he can print by PDF, share by email, or share by public link.
“We’ve found D4H to be extremely helpful and user-friendly”
Thomas Breckel, Director of Clinton County EMA, Ohio.
What do modern-day hazards look like for Clinton County EMA?
Back in 2001, Clinton County had a train derailment due to a bridge that collapsed. When that bridge went down the powerlines also went down with it, and the collapse also caused chemicals to be spilled into the local waterway. This required an extremely large and coordinated response.
Thomas made the point that a lot of the technologies that we use today require electricity, so when power is lost during a storm or transport-related incident, the impact is huge. Further, a lot of the components used in manufacturing today are hazardous and with that, they bring their own specialized response requirements. Even with today’s electric cars, should a collision occur they are considered hazardous materials incidents due to their large batteries.
“Our ultimate goal is to prevent loss of life.”
Thomas Breckel, Director of Clinton County EMA, Ohio.
Watch the full interview
The full interview is now available to watch back on our YouTube channel, or you can listen back on Bravo Zulu, the official D4H podcast.