Community completes historic emergency training

June 26, 2015

GARFIELD COUNTY, Colo. – Emergency response agencies and emergency managers from seven western Colorado counties joined area elected officials and multi-agency staff for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) training in classes and simulated exercises June 16-19 in Rifle.

FEMA experts, some of whom responded to 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, and other national disasters, trained nearly 65 area emergency responders and staff from support agencies in coordinating emergency response efforts in Rifle.

FEMA selected Garfield County for the L947 – Integrated Emergency Management Course through a competitive process nationwide. After receiving intensive training at the National Emergency Training Center (NETC) in Emmitsburg, MD, Garfield County Manager Andrew Gorgey advocated to bring the course to Garfield County. Then, Garfield County Emergency Manager Chris Bornholdt executed the concept, by interacting with state and federal agencies to gain FEMA approval. Bornholdt led all coordination efforts locally.

The course was the last of its series FEMA plans to hold in a field location with communitywide involvement. From now on, the course, which emphasizes the relationship between an incident management team and an emergency operations center, will be held exclusively in Maryland at FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute.

An incident management team is made up of emergency responders to a disaster, emergency, or planned event. The emergency operations center is a central location where resources (people and equipment), in as many as 15 different categories, coordinate in support of the incident management team.

“Training at the NETC is very valuable,” said Gorgey. “But there’s no substitute for training together locally – integrating our professionals from multiple agencies, our geography and our most likely major incidents, all with expert input from FEMA.”

A distinguished list of responders participated. Fire Management Officer Dave Toelle of the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, Glenwood Springs Fire Chief Gary Tillotson, Colorado River Fire Rescue (CRFR) Chief Mike Morgan, Fire Marshal Orrin Moon, Operations Division Chief Rob Jones and other CRFR staff, Garfield County Coroner Rob Glassmire, Sheriff Lou Vallario, Undersheriff Colt Cornelius and Emergency Operations Sargent Jim Sears, Field Manager Chuck Vale of the Colorado Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Management, police chiefs John Dyer of Rifle, Levy Burris of Silt, and Tony Pagni of New Castle, and staff members from Carbondale & Rural Fire Protection District and Basalt Fire Protection District built a strong Incident Management Team for the drill, and supported in other roles.

Emergency managers from Eagle, Garfield, Grand, Gunnison, Moffat, Pitkin, and Rio Blanco counties participated.

Garfield County Commissioners John Martin, Tom Jankovsky and Mike Samson attended the course, supported the training costs, and participated in policymaking, as did Town of New Castle officials.

Nearly two dozen Garfield County employees and other responders, who have active roles in support of incidents, worked on the drill within an emergency operations center model. County staff included emergency management and emergency operations staff, patrol deputies, and animal control staff, as well as communications, finance, human services, procurement, public health, and public works professionals. In addition, Garfield County Emergency Communications Authority, Garfield County Search and Rescue, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, Colorado Department of Transportation, Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, Valley View Hospital, and Grand River Health staff also trained in the multi-agency drills.

These professionals worked together to lead, command, control and problem solve those situations most likely to occur in our community when addressing a communitywide incident or series of incidents. “We tested our actual emergency operations plan with this exercise, and found items we can build on to prepare for the future,” said Bornholdt. “We tested in a controlled environment to better prepare for emergencies.”

Garfield County identified some action items for future consideration. These include establishment of Garfield County-based incident management teams, multi-agency support for public information by the Garfield County PIO Group – which automatically becomes a Joint Information System in cases of developing incidents – and updates to all emergency operations plans, mutual aid agreements, and asset lists.

“The cooperation between local fire districts, law enforcement, and local government agencies that we had in this incident was what made it an effective and beneficial exercise for the county,” said Gorgey. “When we sought this training from FEMA, we hoped it would make us better prepared for emergencies. It did. The participation from about 65 local responders and support staff from so many agencies gave us a real-time model, and the extensive experience these nationally experienced training staff gave us, offered our emergency plans and preparation a major boost. We learned a lot!”

The four-day training offered the highest level of emergency management training in the history of Garfield County.

Emergency Management