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Mayors discuss prep for disaster

Photo by J.D. Sumner

Photo by J.D. Sumner

ALBANY, Ga. -- The heads of government from several south Georgia communities converged Monday to learn strategies for handling disasters, should one occur in Southwest Georgia.

The Mayoral Institute Seminar is designed to promote proper crisis-management and planning skills for government leaders ahead of a multi-agency disaster occurrence, Rick Comley, program director, said.

"The idea is to get government leaders familiar with crisis management strategies to get them prepared so that when something happens -- a tornado, flood, terrorist attack -- they'll be prepared," Comley said.

Funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency's National Training & Education Division, the seminar and workshop Monday was facilitated by the Texas A&M University System's National Emergency Response and Rescue Training Center.

During the workshop, training officials broke down previous multi-department disaster response scenarios -- the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Hurricane Katrina and the collapse of the Minneapolis metro bridge in Minnesota -- and examined how local, state and federal units responded.

Albany and surrounding communities know the importance of teamwork during a crisis. The 1994 flood inundated much of Southwest Georgia with water in the largest multi-agency disaster to hit this area in the state's history.

"A lot of the hard part is working through the bureaucracy of it all ... getting in contact with the right person at the right agency. If you don't, it slows everything down," Meigs Mayor Andrew Wurst said.

That is something federal and state governments learned in their response to Katrina, which swamped communities in the Gulf region.

"That's something that we just don't need," Albany Mayor Willie Adams said, "any kind of delay in getting resources -- state, federal, or whatever -- in place after a disaster."

Comley said that had become a major focus of the government in the post-Katrina world.

One of the challenges to effective pre-disaster planning, especially in terms of inclusion of elected officials, is their high turnover rate, said Don Ogden, one of the facilitators.

Each time a new elected official comes into office, the individual has to be brought up to speed and the learning curve is sometimes steep.

Often, it isn't long before another person is elected and the education process starts over.

Ogden told the group that proper disaster planning involves having in the right perspective and achieving the proper mental and preparatory balance between complacency and paranoia.