August 21, 2013 - If a tornado, natural gas explosion, ice storm, or even a terrorist attack tears into Independence Township, Fire Chief Steve Ronk knows who to call.
Chief Steve Ronk talks about the tons of equipment available to help the community in case of emergency. Photo by Andrea Beaudoin (click for larger version)
A leader in Michigan Fire Service Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS), he can summon firefighters from several counties and tap into a warehouse filled with truckloads of special tools, emergency supplies and gear for responders packed always ready in "go-bags," and a command center always online and up and running.
"It may not seem like Michigan has a lot of tornadoes, but we actually do," Ronk said. "We also recently seen some pretty heavy flooding on the west side of the state."
A single message sent to first responders would activate a 72-hour, self-sustainable emergency response unit within two hours.
The MABAS special response unit is funded by a $4 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security. Several Midwest states have implemented similar programs. Michigan currently has seven MABAS regions, with Independence Township in region five.
Teams in the unit include Urban Search and Rescue, Hazardous Materials Response Team and an Incident Management Team, similar to a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster relief team.
"This higher level of coordination and preparedness will have a big impact by significantly reducing the loss of life and severity of injuries to people," said State Fire Marshal Ronald R. Farr. "Municipalities can also more effectively work together to leverage critical fire service assets and reduce duplication of effort and resources particularly in lean financial times."
Ronk said Independence Township adopted an Oakland County Emergency Management Plan. Personnel also participate in training regularly.
Communities with a population over 10,000, like Independence Township, must have an emergency plan in place or adopt the county plan. Ronk said few communities in Michigan have a staff member dedicated to emergency management.
In the event of a major event, the Independence Township fire chief would serve as a liaison for the township and help to oversee operations.
Independence Township has also adopted a community plan that supports the county plan. If the emergency is outside the scope of the township's ability, or an emergency is declared in the state, the county plan is automatically activated.
If the emergency overwhelms the county, then a Michigan Emergency Preparedness Plan (MEPP) is activated. If there is a major disaster the state cannot handle, then the federal government takes over.
Independence Township Supervisor Pat Kittle and Treasurer Paul Brown said preparing the township for emergency situations was a top priority when they were elected to office, and staffers have been working to revise the township's plan.
"We are proactive in putting emergency plans together," said Brown.
He added management has put plans in place to have the township up and running within 48 hours if something catastrophic happened to township hall. Important community data is also backed up electronically at an off-site location
The township has also been working towards an agreement with Clarkston Schools to provide transportation and shelters to residents in the event of an emergency.
Ronk said the American Red Cross would also be present to help set up area shelters.
Although numerous emergency plans are in place on a federal state and local levels, Ronk said it's important for families to prepare themselves too because emergency personnel might not always be able to respond immediately.
Emergency official advise families that they should be self-sustainable for at least 72 hours.