SAN ANGELO, TX — “We never thought it could happen here.” Those words are familiar when a community suffers a major catastrophe.
Mass shootings, floods, wild fires—any number of incidents could add San Angelo to the many cities that have already faced disaster.
Would San Angelo be prepared for a mass mass-casualty incident?
The question was answered by Steve Mild, Emergency Management Coordinator for San Angelo and Tom Green County.
Above: Emergency Coordinator Steve Mild (LIVE! Photo/Gloria Johns)
Located in a nondescript building on Hanger Road at the San Angelo Airport, the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is ground zero for efficiently planning and managing incidents that threaten the safety and well-being of the community.
Beginning with the report of a mass incident, the Incident Commander—the person who will be responsible for what happens in the field—will engage the top-tier hierarchy of responsibility as shown in the diagram below.
First responders include the San Angelo Police Department, San Angelo Fire Department, volunteer fire departments, the Tom Green County Sheriff’s Office, the Department of Public Safety, and any EMS Service provider.
As the Emergency Management Coordinator, Mild said, “My responsibility is to make sure that training happens before an incident becomes reality. Mandatory training on many different topics is required by the National Federal Incident Management Program, and people have come from as far away as Washington, D.C., to attend training here in San Angelo.”
The EOC occupies one side of the building and includes large, round-table pods for each section, with state-of-the-art technology available at each station.
There is a dais in the room for each section manager.
Along the back wall, special accommodations have been made for elected officials and press, who are able to observe the plan in action without interfering in the process.
Thinking back to the images of nursing home residents sitting in waist deep water after the flood in Dickinson, Texas, in San Angelo and Tom Green County nursing and assisted living facilities must annually submit a plan for approval to the Emergency Management Coordinator.
But there are a few small holes in the process.
After 9/11, it became obvious that first responders were greatly disadvantaged by not being able to communicate across agencies.
The Communications Trailer at the EOC houses mobile technology that can serve as a gateway to bring 800 megahertz and VHF radio frequencies together, enabling first responders to talk to each other regardless of frequency.
However, the trailer needs to be replaced, and a satellite installed, at a cost of about $250,000.
When asked about the price tag of the trailer, Mild said, “I can’t put a price on the safety of my family. Can you put a price on the safety of yours?”
The EOC also operates a ham radio station just off the main command room, which provides one more level of communication that could be crucial in an emergency.
The EOC offers free training classes for ham operators, but is not able to equip each operator with a radio.
That wish list includes 50 hand held radios at a cost of about $50 each, something that Mild hopes to fund through a local corporate sponsorship that has yet to be found.
Mild recounted a story about the ham radio station when it was fully operational. “We sent a signal to El Paso that was routed through east Texas, and then routed through a repeater to the International Space Station, to Hawaii, and eventually back to San Angelo. It took less than 15 minutes for the message to go to El Paso, be signed off on there, and then be returned to San Angelo.”
Ham radio operators have the ability to communicate world-wide, but volunteers are needed.
By the City/County Plan, any of the following are authorized to activate the center: The mayor or County Judge, the Fire Chief or Senior Battalion Chief on duty, the Police Chief or senior ranking officer on duty, the Emergency Management Coordinator, and the Sheriff or ranking officer on duty.
Contact Steve Mild at (325) 657-4230 for information about how you can volunteer as a ham radio operator, or learn more about emergency management classes that are offered.