Separate from WilCo, Cedar Park grows emergency management program

As of February, the city of Cedar Park's emergency-management program is formally independent. Williamson County commissioners on Feb. 4 approved the city's request to be removed from the county emergency program after Cedar Park announced it would pursue its own emergency-management plan.

Michael Clanton, Cedar Park emergency management coordinator, previewed the request in an Aug. 9 letter, saying the city would withdraw from the county plan by Oct. 15. The city would create a distinct plan for its own jurisdiction, Clanton wrote.

"The city of Cedar Park will continue to plan, train, exercise and collaborate with Williamson County and the jurisdictions within the county," Clanton said in the letter.

Jennie Huerta, Cedar Park media and communications manager, said Cedar Park's new emergency-management plan gives the city more local control.

"The city's emergency management coordinator works under the Community Affairs Department to coordinate all city departments, such as streets and parks, in planning for, responding to, recovering from and mitigating community disasters and emergencies," Huerta said.

Cedar Park offers residents an emergency notification service, CPAlertMe, Clanton said. Residents must sign up at www.cpalertme.com to receive updates. The city also sends news through social networks, he said.

"I encourage everyone to visit www.cedarparkprepares.com for more information on how to have a plan, make [an emergency] kit, and stay informed," Clanton said.

The Williamson County Office of Emergency Management began in October 2008. Jarred Thomas has served as its coordinator from the beginning. 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 icing on roads. It also helps fire departments and paramedics allocate resources.

Thomas said the county department should soon have grant funds for a hazard mitigation project at Southwest Williamson County Regional Park. Funds will mitigate or remove a low-water crossing there with a new bridge or barricades. The plan also calls for guarding against wildfires that could start in the park or enter the park from outside, he said.

Michael Clanton, Cedar Park emergency management coordinator

What does the emergency-management program do for your area?

The city of Cedar Park's emergency-management plan is very similar to the Williamson County emergency-management plan we were previously operating under, but having our own plan gives us more local control and jurisdiction over decision-making and deployment of resources. As always, we will still be communicating, coordinating and working in conjunction with the county and other surrounding cities. The general public will not notice any changes, but I would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that being prepared is paramount in any disaster, which can happen at any time.

Everyone should have a plan, make [an emergency kit] and stay informed. Having a plan means knowing how your family will get to a safe place, contact one another and get back together, and also what you will do in different emergency situations.

What are your responsibilities as coordinator?

I coordinate and help facilitate the efforts of city departments to utilize their resources in responding to local emergencies and disasters. I am responsible for developing and maintaining the city's all-hazards emergency-management plan. I also provide various emergency-management training and exercises for city staff and lead Citizen Emergency Response Team classes for citizen volunteers in Cedar Park.

How did you get involved with emergency management?

The University of North Texas offers a renowned degree plan for emergency administration and planning, and I learned of it when I was a student there. I thought that it would be an interesting course of study, and it most certainly was.

I graduated in 2002 with my Bachelor of Science degree in emergency administration and planning, and went to work for the East Texas Council of Governments, developing emergency-management plans for various local jurisdictions.

Jarred Thomas, Williamson County emergency management coordinator

What does the emergency-management program do for your area?

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 don't fight fire. I'm not a paramedic. I'm 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 don't 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.

How did you get involved with emergency management?

Before [2008], 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. [I] 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 I'm at today.

By Stephen Burnett
Stephen Burnett has been a community journalist since 2005. He joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in November 2013. For the cities of Cedar Park, Leander and northwest Austin, he covers city and county government, business, development, events, transportation, utilities and more.


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