Responsibilities of the DES OfficeEmail the Department

Preparing for disasters is most effective when emergency management is an integral part of everyday local government operations. The most opportune time to plan for disasters and emergencies is long before they happen, because often they give little advance notice.

October 17, 1989, began like any other day in Santa Cruz, California, but at 5:04 p.m., the earth shook for about fifteen seconds. In a moment the city was transformed from its normal state to a disaster area, and the course of local history was changed.

The downtown was in ruins. People were trapped in buildings that were damaged or virtually destroyed. The phone system was out of service. The electricity was out.

Disaster and Emergency Services (D.E.S.) or Emergency Management is an integrated effort to prevent - or minimize the seriousness of - emergencies and disasters and to plan and coordinate the community's response to them should they occur. It requires establishing partnerships among professional emergency management personnel to prevent, respond to, and recover from disasters. Coordination is a key factor in establishing an emergency management program, and continual improvement saves lives and reduces losses from disasters.

There are four distinct phases of emergency management: preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery. Although in practice they overlap, each has its own aims and also serves as a building block for others.

"Preparedness" is undertaken before a disaster occurs in order to build emergency management capacity. It has three elements: the development of emergency operation plans; practice at putting the plans into effect (exercises); and public education. Preparedness planning seeks to anticipate problems and project possible solutions to minimize disaster damage.

"Response" activities provide emergency assistance to save lives, preserve property and protect the environment. Rescuing overturned boaters or people stranded in trees from raging flood waters is a response function. A goal of all emergency responders is to reduce the probability of additional injuries or damage, and to start the recovery process as soon as possible.

"Recovery" is the process of returning systems to normal levels, such as replacing a bridge that was washed away by flooding, or restoring a water system that was inundated by flood waters. Some activities can be accomplished in the short term, such as adding gravel to washed out roads; while other activities take years, such as replacing bridges over major rivers.

"Mitigation" activities normally occur before an emergency or disaster, or directly on the heels of a disaster. Such activities include building dikes, adopting flood plain and/or zoning regulations, and requiring a water supply for homes built in wildland fire areas. The primary purpose for mitigation is to eliminate or reduce the probability of a disaster, such as a flood. It will include action to postpone, dissipate or lessen the effects of the disaster.

The major responsibilities of the DES office in Yellowstone County include the following functions and activities:

a. Emergency Plans - DES is responsible for writing and updating the following emergency plans per federal and state laws (FEMA and Title 10, Montana Codes).

  • Emergency Operations Plan - this is the umbrella plan that gives the City and County department heads and responders general guidance and duties during a disaster.

  • Emergency Resource Manual - lists unique resources that may be needed in a disaster.

  • Hazardous Material Response & Evacuation Plan - a plan for responding to hazardous material emergencies.

  • Alerting and Warning Plan - guidance for the City/County Dispatch Center listing key personnel and instructions for siren activation.

  • Rural Fire Policies and Procedures - guidance for the City/County Dispatch Center on paging and dispatching rural fire departments.

  • Emergency Alerting System Plan (EAS) - guidance to local broadcast media on how, what, when, and where to alert the public.

  • Community Shelter Plan - a camera-ready copy listing fallout shelters and instructions.

b. Communications - DES coordinates the total emergency communications of emergency responders day to day and in a disaster. This is accomplished through the City/County Dispatch Center and mobile communications vans. DES is a member of the City/County Communications Advisory Board created by an interlocal agreement between the City and County. This Board, composed of Police, Fire, and Sheriff personnel, provides guidance to the Dispatch Center. This Board is also the 911 Committee which determines how 911 services are provided county-wide and how 911 funds are spent (such as basic and enhanced 911, new CRT radio consoles and Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD). DES also maintains a liaison with local ham radio operators to provide backup or secondary communications in an emergency.

After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center Towers on September 11, 2001, communications among emergency responders became an instant issue at all levels of government. During the attacks, fire and police responders from New York City had difficulty communicating with each other via portable and mobile radios. The loss of lives was attributed to the lack of communications "interoperability" between first responders. Since then, much emphasis and grant funding has been focused on the area of interoperability.

c. Alerting & Warning - DES maintains a county-wide system of alerting sirens (24) to alert the public of an emergency. In addition DES cooperates with the Billings Area Broadcasters and the National Weather Service to maintain the Emergency Alerting System (EAS) Plan for the South Central Montana Operational Area which includes Yellowstone County and the neighboring counties. All broadcast stations (radio and TV) are part of the local, state, and national EAS to alert and warn the citizenry of any impending or occurring emergency or disaster.

d. Emergency Operations Center - this is a joint City/County facility located in the basement of the HQ Fire Station where key officials gather to conduct emergency operations. DES maintains the EOC to include radios, telephones, supplies, maps, and furnishings. When in operation, DES manages and coordinates all EOC activities. The EOC provides for: (1) direction and control, (2) information collection, evaluation, display and dissemination, (3) coordination of response activities, and (4) resource management.

e. Exercises - DES participates and coordinates exercises with all emergency responders (fire, police, EMS, airport, hospitals, etc.) simulating emergencies that could happen in Yellowstone County through the Exercise Design Subcommittee of the LEPC (Local Emergency Planning Committee). This committee has taken the lead role in the planning and coordinating of all disaster exercises.

f. Emergency Declarations and Levies - DES is responsible for recommending an emergency declaration or disaster declaration to the policy bodies of city and county government, preparing disaster declaration resolutions, serving as the City and/or County's authorized agent for FEMA declared disasters (e.g. floods of 1978 and 1997), and managing the authorized emergency levy.

g. Rural Fire Protection Program - the DES Director serves as the County Fire Chief, Fire Warden, and Administrator of the rural fire protection program. The County contracts with eleven volunteer fire departments for grass and wildland fire protection. DES serves as the County's chief advisor to all fire districts and fire service areas for all fire related matters and coordinates with the Department of Natural Resources for state fire support on County wildland fires.