An emergency operations plan is a required plan for each of the 64 parishes in Louisiana, and Webster Parish is no different.
The Webster Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness has a copy of its plan online, on the police jury’s website and is in the two main branches of the Webster Parish Library in Minden and Springhill. Webster OHSEP Director Jenny Reynolds says the plan outlines what possible hazards or disasters are common in the parish and the plan to handle them.
“Every community and every parish faces hazards of some kind,” she said. “Most people do not give much thought to the potential hazards in their community until something bad happens.”
Each OHSEP office is required by law to identify which hazards are specific to each parish or area. She says weather poses the most risk to Webster Parish but the plan takes an “all hazards” approach, which encompasses other possible disasters that could take place.
“Hazards can be natural or manmade,” she said. “Hazards can be weather systems that come through or they can include train derailments, accidents along interstate that might involve hazardous materials that are being transported down our roadways and our rail lines. Manmade threats are also potential hazards, such as bomb threats.”
Some of the ways hazards or threats are identified for the parish are through weather patterns, historical records and the frequency by which an incident occurs.
“We also take into account things that are critical for government operations such as critical infrastructure,” she said. “Everything has a point of vulnerability, so by identifying what things are critical infrastructure and critical to government functions is also trying to identify what the vulnerabilities are to those systems.”
The document for Webster Parish is roughly 500 pages; the introduction gives a broad overview and the appendices give documents and guidelines for municipalities, first responders and different agencies to use during a hazard or threat.
“The reason we share these emergency plans is so that people do become more aware of what they should be thinking about and preparing for,” she said. “While government does have a responsibility to prepare for, mitigate from, respond to and recover from emergency and disaster incidents, there is a level of that that is very much personal responsibility.”
She says it’s important for people to be aware of who their emergency responders are and what agency handles what tasks.
“It is important for every citizen to know what jurisdiction they’re in, which fire districts they fall in and who the leadership is in each of these agencies,” she said. “It’s also important for residents to understand what things could potentially happen in their area, and have an understanding of what the roles of the different agencies are going to look like.”
Every municipality, law enforcement agency and first responders in Webster Parish have a copy on hand. However, “the first 72s on you,” she said. This means that while these agencies have a plan, it is important for citizens and families to have a plan of action for the first 72 hours following a disaster.
For instance, during the March floods, many were displaced from their homes, and luckily many more had places to go when the floods took their homes. In those instances, she says it may take first responders and emergency personnel time to get to them, and it is important that citizens and families be able to survive without aid at least for the first three days.
“If everyone has that idea in mind, making sure they have what they need for themselves and their family for the first 72 hours, that is an excellent start to being a prepared family,” she said. “We encourage everyone to get a game plan, not to just rely on the fact that there are government agencies that handle response. Reality is when times get tough, it often takes some time to get everybody and everything mobilized and set up.”
She reiterated that it’s important for families to think through what they would need to survive for 72 hours, such as making sure they have a heat source, enough food in the pantry or how travel and power are going to be affected.
The plan can be found on the parish’s website www.websterparishla.org under the Webster OHSEP link.