When disaster strikes, whether it be natural or human-made, the location of the accident is critically important. First responders come from local communities, where they follow local response plans, and the lasting effects are felt locally long after the disaster has been mitigated.
State and federal disaster planning and response is important, but local actions before and after the event can be the difference between a catastrophe and a close call. The following briefly describes the federal and Wisconsin rules for local emergency planning.
Federal: FEMA and the Stafford Act
At the federal level, the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (commonly referred to as the Stafford Act) lays out the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) disaster response strategy. FEMA established the national incident management system (NIMS) to help guide departments and agencies at all levels of government to work together seamlessly and manage incidents involving all threats and hazards.
Under the Stafford Act, to receive Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) grants1 from FEMA, local governments must have a response plan in place. Working with FEMA and the state, local governments that develop these plans must give an opportunity for the public to comment during drafting and prior to approval, and plans must be updated every five years. Federal grants are available to state, local, and tribal agencies to develop these plans.2
State: Wisconsin Emergency Management
At the state level, the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs deals with emergencies through the Division of Emergency Management (WEM). WEM’s controlling statues fall under Wis. Stat. chapter 323.
The adjutant general of the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs must develop a state plan for emergency management. The plan is prepared with input from the WEM administrator, the Department of Health Services, the Department of Administration, and FEMA.
This plan specifies state and local emergency management standards (including personnel, equipment, and communication) and an incident command system, and establishes roles at the federal, state, and local levels.
WEM coordinates disaster planning, response, and recovery efforts throughout the state by working with counties, tribes, and local governments. While disaster response, planning, and recovery is typically handled by individual units of government, disasters can affect multiple counties, tribes, and local governments at the same time. WEM helps in these situations by coordinating multi-agency efforts.
Six Regions in Wisconsin
The state is broken up into six regions for WEM to better work with counties, tribes, and local governments to understand their specific needs and concerns.
Each county and tribe must have a Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC). LEPCs typically include local elected officials, members of emergency response agencies (fire, law enforcement, EMS, health, etc.), and representatives from transportation, public works, the media, community groups, environmental groups, and owners/operators of facilities.
The LEPC must develop a plan for their jurisdiction in accordance with state and federal plans. Working with their LEPC, local governments (like cities, towns, and villages) may also make emergency response plans. In consultation with WEM, counties, tribes, and local governments may work together to better plan and respond to emergencies that could overwhelm their limited resources. For example, some counties have grouped together to provide a shared hazardous material spill response team across their region.
The Local Response
During emergencies, counties, tribes and local governments employ their emergency response plans. In executing their emergency response plans, counties, tribes, and local governments have the general authority to order, by ordinance or resolution, whatever is necessary and expedient for the health, safety, protection, and welfare of persons and property in their jurisdiction.
Following an emergency, counties, tribes, and local governments are eligible for state and federal grants available for post-emergency cleanup and mitigation.
While some disasters garner national attention, their impacts are primarily felt locally. With proper planning, response, and mitigation, local communities can deal with anything fate may have in store for them.
1 HMGP grants provide non-emergency funds to states, tribes, and local communities after a disaster declaration for various response and mitigation measures.
2 Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) grant programs (Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, Pre-Disaster Mitigation, and Flood Mitigation Assistance)