EMA in the News
OXCART responds to large-scale animal rescue
Published in the Advertiser Democrat
by Dee Menear - August 1, 2019
REGION — On Tuesday, July 23, more than 100 animals were rescued from R-N-D Kennels in Solon after Maine Animal Welfare authorities determined the animals were in need of urgent care. The kennel, located at 196 Rowell Mountain Rd., was in the business of breeding rough-coat collies but cats, chickens and horses were also seized by agents executing a search warrant.
The animals were removed from the property and sent to undisclosed locations.
The rescue set in motion a coordinated response from local, state and national agencies and organizations, including Oxford County Animal Response Team, or OXCART.
“We are an all-volunteer team that works with emergency management, said Shirley Boyce, OXCART shelter coordinator. “We are called that out when a disaster might affect a large number of people who have pets. We do smaller responses, too. If there is a need, we are flexible as to what we do.”
For instance, OXCART responded to a fire at Oxford Meadows Apartments, Oxford in 2016. The team set up a shelter for the pets of displaced residents, recovered animals from the scene, and then gathered food and supplies for pets once residents were moved into temporary housing. Allyson Hill, Oxford County Emergency Management director said the team also assists other agencies. “As an example, the team has helped with two different horse rescues,” she added.
“Thankfully, there are not a lot of disasters in Maine,” Boyce said.
Under the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act, which was signed into law in 2006, state and local emergency management agencies must have plans for the accommodation of pets. The inspiration for the PETS Act came from events during and after Hurricane Katrina, where inadequate emergency plans often forced people to abandon their pets or stay with them in a dangerous situation.
“Would you leave your pet in a situation like that? I know I wouldn’t be able to. I know a lot of people wouldn’t be able to,” Hill said. In the event of a disaster, OXCART has a service trailer filled with cages and other supplies needed to set up a temporary pet shelter at designated Red Cross emergency shelters, such as a school. The temporary shelter equipment comes through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and is purchased with grants, Boyce said.
“We have 12 large dog crates to use in setting up a disaster shelter,” she said. “If there is a big event, we can contact the state or other animal response teams to use their equipment.”
Hill said the current situation was a unique one. “The PETS Act was meant for housing animals with their humans in disaster situations. This is different because we have a bunch of animals without their humans. Three county animal response teams, state and national agencies, and a number of animal shelters worked together to respond to this situation. Those groups continue to work together for these animals.”
The team is always looking for new volunteers, she said. However, those volunteers must complete a community emergency response team course, and regular training and drills before they can respond to a situation.
“As anybody with a job knows, the world runs on liability,” Hill said. “As wonderful as it is that people want to help out right now, you can’t do that unless you’ve previously been involved with the group, are vetted with the group and have had training. It also helps in any situation to have a relationship with each other before coming together.”
Those interested in joining the team should volunteer with the understanding that attending training and meetings is necessary, even if the knowledge is never used. “We maintain a thankfulness that we don’t have the need to respond often,” she said. “But, we always keep in mind that we might have to at some point.”
OXCART has about 15 volunteers on the roster, said Boyce. “Since we don’t deal with a lot of disasters in
Maine, not a lot of people are aware we exist,” she added. “We can always use new members. We meet once a month or once every other month to train and to talk about current issues.”
Anyone interested in volunteering with OXCART in the future should contact Hill at 743-6336.
Since the situation is under investigation, the location of the animals and other specifics can not be disclosed, said Jim Britt, director of communications for the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. “Shelters are providing a lot of support right now; much more than I ever could have imagined,” he said. “The animals are being very well cared for by dedicated professionals and volunteers.”
Those looking to help can do so by making a donation, he said. Dry and dye-free canned puppy and adult food, puppy pads, treats and toys are needed and can be dropped off at animal shelters.
For those wishing to make monetary donations, Britt recommended donating to a local shelter, as well.
“Ultimately, a donation will help the animals but it will also help the local shelters,” he said.
Locally, Responsible Pet Care of Oxford Hills, 9 Swallow Rd, Paris is accepting donations.
“Anything that comes into RPC, we can get to the temporary shelter,” said Boyce. “Donations have been coming in but the animals are going to be at the location for at least a month, so there is definitely a need.”
Donations can also be made online at www.maine.gove/dacf/animals.
A press release issued by DACF on Wednesday, July 31, said:
The 96 dogs, 6 cats, 3 chickens and 2 horses seized by Maine Animal Welfare last week are receiving needed medical care and behavioral evaluations. At present, all of the animals are considered evidence in the complaint and the legal process is expected to take several weeks. The urgent and immediate need is for public contributions to help finance the rescue effort.
More than 70 adult Collies and Dobermans are being cared for in an emergency shelter. “Everyone is doing a great job caring for the dogs and our next hurdle is to move to an emergency shelter that is larger and better equipped,” said Liam Hughes, Maine Animal Welfare Director. “We are trying to give the dogs the individual care they need, but this temporary shelter site is too small. We are working to move to a new location so we can focus on rehabilitation.”
The emergency shelter location is and will remain undisclosed to provide security for the animals and the staff coordinating this effort.
Anyone wanting to help should check with their local shelter. Shelters across Maine are sending supplies and trained staff to care for the animals.
AUGUSTA — It was just another conference for Oxford County Emergency Management Director Allyson S. Hill and Deputy Director Teresa M. Glick on April 24 and 25 in Augusta as they represented Oxford County’s EMA office.
However, presenters at the annual Maine Partners in Emergency Preparedness Conference – Oxford County Regional Communications Center Director James Miclon and Deputy Director Geffrey Inman, had other ideas.
After speaking for 70 minutes on how Oxford County managed without its dispatch center for more than a month after a May 31, 2017 lightening strike, they surprised the two EMA directors when they presented them with awards.
The awards were for “Outstanding Service and Support to the County of Oxford and the OCRCC for the May 31, 2017 lightening strike that Crippled the RCC.”
Miclon says, “I wanted to honor them in front of their peers in the state and New England instead of just at a county commissioners meeting.”
When the lightening hit, and everything shut down, “they responded immediately,” recalls Miclon. “They set up in my office and took on management of the incident with Geff [Inman], made calls, coordinated everything, handled the media … they were solid support.”
Miclon says he doesn’t know what they would have done without the EMA staff.
“We were completely surprised,” laughs Hill. “We had no idea it was coming … they were very sneaky.”
“We are honored,” Hill and Glick agree, “to have been recognized by the RCC for our assistance. We have a very strong partnership with them. But we were just doing our job!”
COUNTY — Becky Secrest may have one of the most important jobs in the county.
Keeping its children safe while they are in school.
The 65-year-old Greenwood resident is the county Emergency Management Agency (EMA) School Planner.
Although it may sound innocuous, her role is to work with schools to train and implement plans for myriad threats that could arise. She currently works with more than 30 public schools, and a number of private and parochial schools, developing Emergency Management Plans (EMP).
Training for schools is not mandated, the schools (public or private) have to invite her in. But it is well worth their time. And it costs the schools nothing.
Secrest has been trained by Homeland Security in incident command and has been helping county schools stay safe for 10 years.
And yet, not all the schools in the county take advantage of her expertise. Those that do have benefited from detailed EMPs, bullet point teacher guides, table top exercise, school and district staff training, updated contact lists, coordination with first responders, after action reviews and improvement plans and continuous updating as new methods or threats evolve.
Threats might include a fire, active shooter, disgruntled parent, out of control child as well as anything happening outside the school from which students need to be protected.
She will help integrate law enforcement and school EMPs so all are on the same page and know what the other will be doing in an emergency. She will update plans to include new state and federal Department of Education requirements. And to stress a point — it is all free … and done at the school according to the school’s schedule.
So how can all this be free? Because it is funded by an Emergency Management Performance Grant. When the position was created it was funded through a Homeland Security Grant. Then EMA Director Allyson Hill pursued funding through the Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG), which is a 50 percent matching grant.
A school flipchart
“The match was provided through volunteer time in the county that I tracked and submitted with reimbursement requests,” Hill explains, “therefore no county funds were expended for her services.”
“As of two years ago, she was integrated into our county budget, and now 50 percent of her contractual costs are paid for with county funds and 50 percent are covered by EMPG, just like all costs for personnel and operations in our office.”
One of the key elements of keeping schools safe, says Secrest, are the tabletop exercises.
Although the title may conjure up visions of school models and little play figures similar to military tabletop exercises, it is more like a mental and verbal chess game.
Secrest explains how it works.
“At this time, this is happening … where would you go? What would you be doing? How would you respond?”
She notes that she tries to get participants, especially school personnel, out of their comfort zone when asking those questions.
So, for example, instead of a teacher being in a classroom, suppose they were in the bathroom or the teacher’s lounge and their students were at recess … .
“I am working with schools,” says Secrest, “to practice during unexpected, inopportune, unordinary times.”
It is important, Secrest says, to make sure all school staff are “at the table” including teachers, coaches, cafeteria workers, Ed Techs, office personnel, etc. And on the other side, fire, police and EMS first responders.
“Having first responders at the table,” explains Secrest, puts staff at ease. They are feeling someone else is looking out for them.”
There are no predetermined solutions to the various scenarios presented during a tabletop exercise. Varying responses and even disagreements are expected. In fact, situation updates, written material and resources are the basis for discussion.
“Every time, no matter how many times you’ve done it, you always think of something new,” emphasizes Hill. And EOPs evolve as things change, they concur.
“One of the purposes of tabletop is to help staff understand the risks and the need for training and drills,” says Hill.
A sample scenario might be as follows:
10 a.m. Most students are in classrooms but one class is outside on the playground. A parent approaches the front door and is buzzed in. As the parent walks through the door another person also enters … the parent heads to the office to sign in but the other person heads down a hallway. A teacher in the hall asks the unknown intruder to go to the office to sign in … the request is ignored and the teacher notices the intruder is carrying a weapon.
The intruder continues down the hallway. The teacher enters a classroom and calls a lockdown. Upon hearing the lockdown, the intruder draws his weapon, quickly enters a classroom and holds the class hostage.
Once presented with the scenario, groups are asked questions.
Principal and staff might be asked such things as:
- What is your initial response?
- What notifications need to be made?
- What information will you provide?
- What information do you need?
- What early preparations would be made?
- What complications come to mind?
- Where is your incident command post?
- What information will you give the 911 operator and what will you need from them?
- Understanding you may be in a lockdown for up to five hours or more, what complications come to mind?
Teachers might be asked:
- What is your initial response inside the building? Outside?
- What additional resources would you need initially?
- What are your response actions as the event continues?
- What are you doing in your classrooms during the event?
- What communication options do you have?
- What if you are in the gym or other non-classroom?
- What complications come to mind?
First responder questions might include:
- What are your initial actions?
- What information do you need?
- What are your actions in route to the school?
- What are your actions once on the scene?
Once the intruder has been apprehended by law enforcement, the incident doesn’t end. There are two more modules for the tabletop exercise.
Final module scenarios might include:
The intruder has been apprehended … there are injuries sustained in the hostage classroom. The school is locked down because this is now a crime scene … students and staff will need to be relocated and prepared for reunification because families … arriving to be reunified with loved ones … while immediate threat is over, order still must be maintained and all students accounted for and reunified with parents in a calm and orderly manner.
Students may be relocated to off-school-site areas and there could be more than one, noted Secrest. It is imperative, she says, that each child is cleared to leave with an identified parent/caretaker. Consequently, the reunification area must be controlled and orderly.
“There might be more than one reunification site,” says Secrest, “and they must be secure to make sure each parent gets their child.”
And, again, each group has a series of questions to answer.
In addition to tabletop exercises, schools need to hold lockdown drills. Schools are used to conducting requisite fire drills, Hill said, but not so much with lockdown drills. “During fire drills, students somewhat casually walk outside and stand chatting … a lockdown is very different.”
Hill noted that lockdowns often require students to be quiet and hide. She agreed that lockdown drills could be scary for students.
Each school Secrest works with gets an Emergency Operation Plan. This is a binder about two inches thick that covers contingencies, trainings, federal and state requirements, and after action review procedures.
After each tabletop exercise, After Action Reviews are done with school staff and first responders and the school’s EOP and staff slip charts updated taking into consideration what may have come out of the exercise.
Secrest grew up in Texas and earned a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture. She came to New England after college.
She became a major partner is a consulting firm dealing with environmental management.
She came to the county EMA in 2008.
“The schools needed plans and didn’t have any,” explains Hill, “after Columbine and Stockton Springs there were a growing number of school incidents so this [school EOPs] was part of the national EMA movement.”
But it is up to the schools to ask for training. In the SAD 17 district all eight elementary schools and the middle school work with Secrest.
Secrest feels strongly that all schools should have more lockdown drills. She says the state mandates 10 drills a year but doesn’t determine how many should be fire and how many should be lockdown.
“How many times do you hear about a school catching fire?
Lockdown and evacuation drills are not as easy as fire drills, she says. “A lockdown requires dead silence and an evacuation might take you further [from the school] than a fire drill or out a window.”
She notes the county has floor plans for every school and updated first responder contact information and it can access school cameras remotely in an emergency.
School incidents, Hill and Secrest say, take a toll on everyone.
“First responders will all know someone in the school, the emotional toll is great,” they say.
The county, says Hill, is well prepared. “RCC’s [Oxford County Regional Communications Center] notification system has a page that goes to every law enforcement personnel in the state with an instantaneous notification.
Hill notes there is an upcoming meeting with law enforcement, dispatchers and the state to talk about law enforcement and county-wide protocols for school response.
For more information on enlisting Secrest and her expertise, contact the Oxford County Emergency Management Agency at 743-6336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.