Williamson County Office of Emergency Management coordinator

Jarred Thomas has served as coordinator of the Williamson County Office of Emergency Management, or OEM, since its inception in October 2008. The office serves cities and jurisdictions in the county that do not have their own emergency management plans by coordinating and planning for large-scale incidents, such as hazardous material spills, floods or icy roads. It also assists fire departments and paramedics in resource allocation in events such as forest fires and housing hurricane evacuees by providing support mechanisms to incident commanders to help manage situations.

What does the OEM do for Williamson County?

We have one overarching plan, which is our emergency management plan, and we have 22 functional [sections] that touch on specific topics or areas of concern [such as] fire, terrorism, evacuation [and] public health. I dont fight fire. Im not a paramedic. Im not a police officer. We coordinate and work with all of those entities to come up with plans that will work with one another.

Emergency management really is that conduit that brings all of those pieces together to be able to manage a significant disaster. We dont deal with everyday wrecks. We deal with your not-normal or your very large-scale incidents where you need all of those groups or agencies participating together.

What we do is facilitate the application of the plans. A lot of what we do is resource allocation and management.

What are your responsibilities as coordinator?

We help individuals try to recover from disaster, or we look for funding or ways to recover for the public infrastructure side. If we were to have a presidentially declared disaster, then we would be working on the recovery piece of that as well. A lot of it is identifying projects and working with all of those other groups to facilitate the recovery process.

Its a lot of planning, a lot of training and a lot of coordination. We work with our counterparts within the county, and then we work with our counterparts regionally. We have a very strong regional partnership with all the emergency management agencies within the 10-county region.

What are some examples of how the OEM has helped the county?

One of the smaller jurisdictions had a water failure. They needed assistance in trying to figure out how they were going to provide potable water to their city during this event.

Its really about being able to bring whatever resources are needed to that local jurisdiction. The county wasnt responsible for paying for their issue. We werent paying for the water to be hauled in. All we did was facilitate the water being trucked in.

We are in the process of obtaining grant funds for a large hazard mitigation project for the regional park. Theres a low water crossing there. We want to mitigate, or get rid of, the low water crossing. To get rid of it we have to build a bridge or put up barricades.

The hazard mitigation plan were [also] working on now is for fire fuel reduction to help guard against wildfires that would either come into the park, or if it were started in the park, help keep it from getting out of the park.

How did you get involved in emergency management?

I actually transferred over to this position from [emergency medical services] in 2008. I left there as a shift commander and paramedic. I came over here when the county started this department. Until 2008, there was not an office of emergency management.

Before that, I did work in industrial safety and emergency preparedness for hospitals and for Dell [Inc.]. I did safety and a lot of emergency preparedness stuff, which was kind of a segue into when I was working for EMS. We did a lot of the emergency management planning even when I was working as a paramedic. It was kind of just a natural progression to where Im at today.

At what point in a disaster does the OEM get involved?

For the ice storms, because it is a countywide event to begin with, we get involved right from the beginning because its going to take countywide coordination to resource [it]. Say for a wildfire or something, we may get notified, but as far as becoming active or activating the emergency operations center and calling folks, its going to have to [be] significant. If its going to stretch beyond eight or 10 hours, youre looking for logistics to help feed and water the responders. If there are any significant evacuations or sheltering operations, then were going to get involved in that.

ESOC and seasonal threats

The Office of Emergency Management is one of several offices housed in the Williamson County Emergency Services Operations Center, which opened at 911 Tracy Chambers Lane in August 2012.

Parts of the sheriffs office, the Hazardous Materials Response Team, Williamson Counties and Cities Health offices and the countys emergency communications center are based in the building.

All offices work year-round to manage threats to public health and safety, Emergency Management Coordinator Jarred Thomas said. While wildfires are a year-round threat, others are seasonal:

Winter Ice on roadways

Spring Severe weather such as thunderstorms and tornadoes

Summer Fires, if conditions are dry, and hurricanes, which can cause heavy rains or require coordinating housing for evacuees from coastal areas

Fall Flooding