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Emergency center helped coordinate fire relief work

Posted: Friday, Jun 28th, 2013

ALAMOSA — When disaster struck Mineral and Rio Grande counties, local emergency responders were ready to help out.

In the days after the West Fork Complex Fire flared up, the San Luis Valley Regional Emergency Operations Center worked in close conjunction with federal officials and others to provide whatever resources it could.

While agencies in the affected counties are actively supporting firefighters’ efforts on the scene, emergency team members elsewhere stood up to fill in as needed.

David Osborn, Alamosa County’s emergency planning coordinator, said that communications and public information services are two of the most vital roles it performs in times of crisis.

In this case, misinformation and rumors about the fires are widespread. But Osborn said the Emergency Operations Center took great strides to ensure that its latest updates were clear, concise and accurate.

It set up its own Facebook account, https://www.facebook.com/West Fork Fire, to dispel falsehoods, such as inaccurate rumors that the Town of Creede is under evacuation or pre-evacuation orders.

The center also hosted the National Interagency Buying Team’s members, who came from all over the country to buy the supplies and services that Type 1 incident managers need.

Patricia Walker, a visiting member of the buying team, told Alamosa County commissioners on Wednesday that the center’s support made her group’s job much easier.

A Type I management team in Del Norte is now in charge of all operations on the eastern side of the complex, and it, too, may have an easier time, thanks to the center.

However, Osborn is careful to say that no single individual, group or agency can take credit for the work that emergency responders accomplished in recent days.

“We had tons of folks helping out,” he said. “These were folks that didn’t have to be there.”

The long list of partners it worked with ranged from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Colorado Department of Local Affairs to the Regional Medical and Trauma Advisory Council, the Red Cross and the San Luis Valley Medical Reserve Corps.

Behavioral health lead Dave Hayden also did a fabulous job working with area shelters and communities, Osborn said.

Many others put in long hours to perform whatever tasks were thrown their way.

“A lot of those folks aren’t county employees,” Osborn said. “They’re just volunteering to help.”

Surprisingly, the center is the only one of its kind in the state.

All six counties in the Valley support the facility, and each county contributes an equal amount to keep the office running year-round.

“People thought we were kind of crazy at the time (we set it up),” Alamosa County Commission Chair Darius Allen said Wednesday.

Yet their hope back then, he said, was that the center could help local communities respond to incidents like the West Fork Complex Fire.

“I think we threw a great team together that was able to assist other emergency managers,” Allen said.

Apart from the Emergency Operations Center’s work, Commissioner Marianne Dunne noted that area churches are helping to prepare meals, while some parishioners are volunteering at shelters.

Meanwhile, the Salvation Army is feeding people at the shelter in Del Norte, while Adams State University acted spontaneously to house displaced residents and families.

Residents across the Valley are also pitching in with donations to help their neighbors, and the response has been so overwhelmingly positive that donations management has been a challenge.

As a result, Osborn said the Emergency Operations Center may explore the possibility of setting up a donations management team to handle future incidents.

For now, though, he suggests that the best thing you can do is to contribute to the Mile High Chapter of the Red Cross, which manages the group’s San Luis Valley office. You can reach Red Cross disaster coordinator Bill Werner at (800) 417-0495, or (719) 580-5120.

For the latest and most accurate information on the West Fork Complex Fire, go to: www.inciweb.org, or follow @rmt1pio on Twitter.

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