(Photo by Beth Depew)
Following the Southern Oregon wildfire response, HSPR received a letter of thanks from Jessica Schwarz, Josephine County Emergency Services manager. “During the days of the fires, there was an incredible partnership from you and your staff,” she writes. “Having staff within OHA, such as Beth Depew and Elizabeth Miglioretto, available to respond to the smoke and health issues was critical.” The letter continues, “With a big heart I say THANK YOU! You definitely made a stressful situation more palatable. Well done in your commitment to the safety of the people of Southern Oregon and Josephine County.”
In their words …
Beth Depew, B.S., EMT-I, SW Oregon HPP liaison
I live in southern Douglas County. In the early morning hours of July 26, 2013, a very small, yet targeted thunderstorm, started multiple fires in Josephine and Southern Douglas counties. Later that morning, from my front yard, I could see that we were surrounded by smoke. I contacted the Josephine County Emergency manager for a fire update and her response was, “there is fire everywhere.” On Saturday, July 27, the Douglas Complex fire blew up and was burning out of control. The sheriff visited our home and informed us that we had to be ready to evacuate within a 30-minute time frame. Once I readied my home and family for evacuation I was able to re-focus my efforts on my role as HPP Region 5 health care liaison.
Fire and smoke, like other natural and human-made catastrophes, don’t observe jurisdictional lines and during these catastrophes HPP and PHEP liaisons don’t either. We work together to connect partners, share information, and provide seamless support where our skills and established relationships are most useful. I contacted Douglas County Public Health to give them a “heads up,” about the rapidly deteriorating air quality in the Glendale area. Then I went over to the fire camp and checked in with the Incident Commander and Public Information Officer (PIO). I provided them with the Crisis and Emergency Communication (CERC) toolkit and let them know that Douglas County Public Health would be in touch with them to coordinate public messaging. Then I provided Douglas County with the names and phone numbers of the fire Incident Management Team (IMT). This action connected Douglas County Public Health with the Fire IMT.
The next task was to establish ongoing communications with both the HPP Region 5 Coalition and the Health Security, Preparedness and Response team in Portland. I was welcomed into the Josephine County Emergency Operations Center and assisted them in the Planning Section. I was given full access to all the fire complex’s reports, connected to the Joint Information Center, and air quality monitoring reports. From these data I ensured daily Situation Reports were generated for the county and partners to help ensure a common operating picture. Access to this information also allowed me to keep the Region 5 Coalition and HSPR staff informed on an ongoing basis. In the end, it’s all about authentic partnerships and information sharing.
Elizabeth Miglioretto, M.P.H., S.W. Oregon PHEP liaison
My first notification that there was an issue was from a personal contact, which prompted me to start reaching out to my local public health departments. Once I made contact with a couple of my affected counties, the communication began.
One of the county public health programs I work with was in the middle of an organizational restructure in which the PHEP coordinator was taking on a new job. Another had to make an immediate shift out of the role as public health preparedness coordinator because she is also the county emergency manager. And another had to take a larger role in public information because the local PIO was on vacation. My first action was to connect them as the air quality issue was affecting all of them, and they needed to coordinate their public health messaging.
After that, I was chasing down information and trying to connect the dots for them as issues arose. As someone who has worked in public health preparedness in Oregon for 10 years, it was very encouraging to see Douglas County Health and Social Services using the incident command system principles they have spent many hours of training in. I watched this help them organize and manage their response.
Each day they briefed me by the end of the day about their objectives, the adjustments to the provision of programs, staff and client safety and what was planned for the following day. This allowed me to be more proactive in supporting their efforts. Additionally, as a part of this response I was able to participate in the two best after-action reviews to date. Well done!
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