Pickens County Sheriff Donnie Craig believes in being proactive when it comes to safety and crime prevention in this county.
As a measure of his dedication to that objective, continual training is mandatory to prepare sheriff's department employees for instances they may encounter. This week was no exception as Craig hosted an incident command class - ICS-300: Intermediate ICS (Incident Command System) for Expanding Incidents.
Chief Deputy Jeff Hall said,
“We host this class and other NIMS (National Incident Management Services) compliant classes to ensure our agency and volunteers as well as other agencies are ready for events.”
The class is offered through the CDP (Center for Domestic Preparedness) and the Emergency Management Institute, branches of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). Establishing an incident command system is integral to Craig’s vision for the sheriff’s department in that it helps individuals who may assume a supervisory role in events to develop the various objectives they will be responsible for meeting to control and diffuse situations while protecting lives and property.
Lectures, group exercises, videos and implementing plans within varying scenarios were all part of the learning process. Instructor Robby Westbrook, EMA (Emergency Management Agency) director for Cherokee County, is well-versed by not only implementing these practices in his own work, but has taught these principles to more than 1800 in the ten years he’s been in this capacity.
Westbrook started his career in emergency services in 1980 and has spent most of that time in Cherokee County. He is currently a teacher for Georgia Emergency Management and an adjunct professor at Reinhardt College. His hands-on experience is vast as he’s been involved in numerous emergency disasters including the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Craig had the highest praise for Westbrook stating,
“He’s by far the best at what we’re being taught.”
Sheriff Craig reports they try to have all the staff trained in ICS. Optimally, he tries to offer the course and it’s follow-up course, ICS 400, twice a year. Due to turnover in the department the course is offered at least once in a 12-month period.
As much as Craig wants to have a staff ready to undertake any emergency, he has opened the class to other agencies as well as the PSO Auxiliary Unit, a group of volunteers from the community who most recently aided the county in the August floods by opening, staffing and running an emergency shelter. Those volunteers as well as courthouse deputies, representatives of Dalton Police Department, Woodstock Police Department, Dawson County Emergency Medical Services and Cherokee Sheriff’s Office all put on their thinking caps and dove into the three-day class.
Any time you get other groups involved in an event during an incident being familiar with the structure of command is helpful, Craig said. He explained that last year the school administration went through this class which assisted them in knowing how to handle an incident at Jasper Middle School where ammunition was found.
“I hope if we have, say, a tornado, we activate the E.O.C. (Emergency Operations Center) and the incident is operated by ICS….the more people on that page, the smoother things run,”
The class teaches how to set up a command structure with a chain of command down to each division using a national model and utilizing only those components necessary to a specific type. For instance, if there were another flooding incident it shows how to set up a command structure involving the agencies needed and gives options to expand involvement in case the incident changes. If one has localized flooding and a car goes into the water, law enforcement, ems and fire would be there on the scene and know their roles. If the flooding continued to where people would be unable to inhabit their homes, the incident would be expanded as a shelter would then be necessary so whomever would be running the shelter would then be added to the command structure and given roles.
Once the structure has been established, the course instructs each person the steps to take from there: from developing objectives, to carrying out those objectives or how to direct others to carry them out, how to be adaptable and re-evaluate as needs or situations change, how to allocate resources appropriately and the dangers of failing to do that accurately, how to scale back as the immediate concerns are taken care of and how to demobilize. From beginning to end, specific procedures help keep the operation orderly, targeted and efficient are utilized.
Craig hopes as they continue, they can invite more schools, churches and people to participate.