Rochester updating emergency response plan

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published May 4, 2016


ROCHESTER — A natural disaster can strike at any time, and the city of Rochester is taking steps to make sure it’s prepared.

Rochester Fire Chief John Cieslik said the city is in the process of updating its emergency response plan, a process that is completed every four years.

Based on the city’s size, he said Rochester plans to use the Oakland County Homeland Security Department as its main emergency response plan, meaning the county would handle response operations if the city declared an emergency.

“If we do have to go to the county, this means they are bringing in their resources to help us out to assist us in the process. It really means, at that time, we need them to go ahead and take the next step. Without them, we have no chance of getting any federal funding or state funding to help recover from the actions that we are taking,” he said.

In addition to the county’s plan, he said the city must also have its own support plan to handle smaller issues and provide support to the county during a major emergency.

The city’s support plan identifies the City Council chambers as its Emergency Operations Center — which Cieslik said is a central place that everything feeds back into — with the fire station serving as a backup.

A few months ago, he said the city operated the EOC on a limited basis due to forecasts of over 10 inches of snow, in order to put together plans.

“We did go ahead and declare a snow emergency to make sure we could properly park,” he said.

The plan identifies the City Council as the group to set emergency policy — deciding what has to be done to keep the continuity of government going in an emergency.

“Depending upon the amount of damage that may be caused, (the council will need to decide) what sort of new rules or regulations we need to put in place for reconstruction, and the types of things that we need to go ahead and get completed to go ahead and recover from any type of disaster,” Cieslik explained.

City staff is asked to support the plan in the areas that they are most qualified for.

“The police and fire will obviously be out taking care of the mitigations. The city staff will keep track of things like hours and costs, so that we can go ahead and get reimbursement should it be declared a natural disaster. And that is really an important piece of our plan, making sure that we have good record keeping, so that we could go ahead and recover any of the funds,” Cieslik said.

One of the most important parts of the process, Cieslik said, is the declaration of an emergency, which would fall upon the mayor, then the mayor pro tem, then the city manager.

“When we would declare an emergency, it means that the local resources are overwhelmed. In other words, between police, fire, DPW, we can’t handle the emergency and we’ve used the local emergency responders from our box alarm system,” he said.

If the city declares an emergency, under the plan, it has to notify the Oakland County Homeland Security Division within 72 hours.

“Because they serve as our primary emergency response plan, and our plan is in support of theirs, then it would fall upon their shoulders to notify the state government in the event that we needed to declare a larger emergency here within the city, where we are looking for potential federal funding or from other resources coming in … Finally, from the state, it would go to the federal government,” Cieslik said.

City Councilman Jeffrey Cuthbertson said he is glad to see the city has a formal plan together.

“I lived in Great Oaks when the building downtown blew up and bricks landed a mile away, so these sorts of major things can happen, and if we’re not at our best when things are at their worst, where else do people look? And that is what this is for,” he said.

Cieslik said the city plans to do an emergency preparation exercise in June to see how everything in the plan will work.

“It’s all about being prepared, making sure that we are properly staffed, and making sure that we have the proper training — all of these things go into the plan. Without one, it falls apart,” he said.