PAYETTE — With Russian attacks on Ukraine holding the world’s attention, officials at the Payette County Office of Emergency Management are looking at how well they are prepared if war fallout should come our way. The topic was raised during the Payette County Board of Commissioners’ regular meeting on Monday.
Commissioner Reece Hrizuk explained during the meeting why he raised this topic for discussion.
“The reason why I asked that we have a discussion is we are probably at a time in the world that we haven’t been at for probably 30, 40 years. And with the risk of the Russians doing things that are [not] undoable, I just wonder how our emergency management plan deals with that, in case the unthinkable does happen. What are we going to do, what can we do?”
As observed by Adam Gonzalez, Payette County Emergency Manager, his office cites its preparations for a natural disaster to occur at the Cascadia Subduction Zone as a bench mark for how it is prepared against a manmade attack.
“A lot of the same things that come as a result of that type of incident would also be the same types of that we’d be concerned about,” he told the commissioners. “Our emergency operations plan is multi-hazard. It’s designed in a way to be reactive, not to a specific incident, butmore of a structure and framework on how we can respond to any incident.”
Gonzalez observed that several concerns remain about such a possibility, specifically about where to house those who may seek shelter.
“Whether that’s for individuals that are sheltering in their homes [or] sheltering in a shelter,” he expressed that mass care remains a challenge. Specifically, he said, his office is trying to ensure that shelters identified throughout the county are equipped with back-up sources of power.
“We’re looking at some ideas on how to make that possible, using future grant funding.”
His office plans to use grant money to install transfer switches at shelter sites it identifies, that can work with mobile generators. Obtaining generators for that purpose remains a long-term goal, while county officials have generators now which are mainly used to keep radio towers online if necessary.
Preparation in case of weapons designed to disrupt communications being used remains a work in progress, according to Gonzalez. He said his office plans to develop a countywide continuity operations plan, the process having been disrupted by COVID-19.
“There’s not really a whole lot we can plan for, except for falling back on ‘Okay, who’s our vulnerable populations that need power?’ We’d be coordinating a lot of organization with our amateur radio … We’d kind of revert back to some [older] processes.”
Local supply chain concerns also weigh heavy on Gonzalez’ mind, specifically food processing. He added that county officials are able to coordinate with state officials in case the local food supply is disrupted, noting that the Idaho Foodbank serves as an example of how a lot of food can be moved at one time as he observed amid COVID-19.
However, as observed by Gonzalez and Payette County Sheriff Andy Creech, efforts to improve emergency communication for eventualities are showing progress.
“We did test some of that during the solar eclipse with amateur radio people. They had their own system set up, where they had somebody that [directed] all of the people around at specific checkpoints,” said Creech. “Then we had somebody on a runner system here that just took messages, took them up to dispatch, got messages from dispatch and brought [them] back and transferred them back to the ham radio people.”
Creech added that testing of systems has been ongoing in recent years, and said they have gone well thus far. The most recent total eclipse visible from North America was in August 2017.
“We have a really good working relationship with our amateur radio in the area, and we’re trying to improve all those processes,” said Gonzalez.
As the courthouse has mainly mechanical door locks, Gonzalez observed that prevents computer issues from affecting them. He noted that his office plans to have an exercise on responding to a Cascadia incident this summer, and that an emergency manager in a neighboring county, which he did not specify, also plans to participate.
“He’s spearheading a project with amateur radio, working on improving capabilities around a program called Winlink, which is the capability of sending email over radio transmission. He’s working with amateur radio groups across the state, this year we’ll have an exercise this fall on sending and receiving information. The state of Idaho, at Gowen Field [in Boise], has an amateur radio site where they can relay and take that information, so if requests were needed they could be sent to them, and we can be able to interoperate that way.”
As this was not an action item on the Commissioners’ agenda, no actions were taken during this meeting.