On May 24th we toured the Emergency Operations Center in Olathe as part of our Community Helpers series, which includes the police station and the fire station. The center is the heart of emergency preparedness in Johnson County. The employees there work very hard to keep our citizens safe in case of emergency, and to get help to affected families if there is severe weather or other disasters in our area.
We learned that in the state of Kansas that emergency management happens at the county level. Each county is required to have a community preparedness program and an emergency manager. In Johnson County that means we have a staff person who is an emergency manager and an office for the community preparedness program; other, less populated counties might have that role assigned to their sheriff or other community leader on a part-time basis. Due to Johnson County’s experience in emergency management, staff members will often advise and help out their counterparts in other counties.
We learned about the different kinds of weather that can cause emergencies in our area. Not only do we have to watch for tornadoes, but we have to watch for flash flooding that comes from heavy rains, lightning from storms, and strong winds that can cause damage nearly as severe as a tornado. The Emergency Operations Center works with local meteorologists and the National Weather Service to monitor the weather, and listens to reports from trained spotters in the field to keep a close eye on dangerous weather as it happens.
In order to help protect citizens against future emergencies, the Emergency Operations Center tracks all kinds of information related to weather patterns, outcomes of storms in other areas and outcomes of major emergencies in other areas. They use this data to model the possible outcomes of storms if they occurred in our county, and to help them make decisions on when to warn citizens to seek shelter, what kind of resources to have ready in case of an emergency, if and when to evacuate an area and how to help evacuate citizens, and so on. Emergency management is a complex job that requires a lot of forethought and strong planning abilities, as well as an ability to handle lots of different needs at the same time.
We had a great tour, and learned so much about how the Emergency Operations Center and its staff work hard to keep Johnson County citizens safe. Our guide, Trent, did an amazing job of answering all the kids’ questions (and there were lots!). Many thanks to the Emergency Operations Center staff for the work they do each day, and for a wonderful and informative tour. We highly recommend other groups take a tour and learn more about how this office helps to keep us all safe.