Wednesday, March 5, 1997
A place to turn
for help

State agency matches
needs with resources

Enquirer Columbus Bureau

COLUMBUS - Two projectors beam national and local TV coverage of the flood onto massive overhead screens.

Other screens display satellite weather photos and up-to-date projections on when the swollen Ohio River will crest.

Phones ring. Messengers come and go. And about 100 workers, representing at least 14 state, federal and local agencies, share information and answer questions about what forecasters say is the worst flooding since 1964.

The crew is assembled in the Ohio Emergency Management Agency's (EMA) Operations Center, a cavernous room designed to provide the space and equipment needed to manage large-scale emergencies.

The operations center has been open since 1994, but the flood marks the first time it has been fully activated, said Nancy Dragani, chief public information officer for EMA.

Working together

''It's a vehicle for us to keep everybody on the same sheet of music,'' she said. ''It also helps us find out what needs exist and what resources are available to meet them.''

When the village of Blue Creek in Adams County needed drinking water, local emergency management officials called the operations center.

Ohio National Guard representatives at the center pointed out that the guard has water trailers. And now, so does Blue Creek.

The center holds periodic briefings, and representatives of the assembled agencies update their colleagues and sometimes ask for help.

During Tuesday's briefing, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) announced it supplied backhoes and dump trucks to Scioto County to help clear debris from county roads.

While such assistance is more commonly provided by the state Department of Transportation, ODNR's Division of Forestry has backhoes and dump trucks for use at nearby Shawnee Forest - just down the road from the area needing to be cleared.

Finding solutions

Ken Mills, who is coordinating volunteer efforts, announced that BP has asked for help in supplying gasoline to flooded areas.

''We've given BP the names and numbers of emergency directors in each of the counties,'' said Mr. Mills, director of the Ohio Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster. The directors will help BP select sites to park fuel trucks that will serve as temporary filling stations, he said.

Others told of portable generators for sale or rent, communication lines being restored in Brown County and outposts in Meigs County in need of generators and lights.

EMA gets involved when a crisis exceeds local agencies' capabilities. When Gov. George Voinovich declared portions of southern Ohio in a state of emergency, the affected counties became eligible for the state's resources.