WISCONSIN DELLS, Wis. — Planning and responding to emergency efforts in the new decade was the common goal at the 53rd Annual Governor’s Conference on Emergency Management and Homeland Security. Nearly 450 representatives of the state’s emergency management, fire, law enforcement and other first responder agencies attended the event, held March 10-11 at the Kalahari Resort and Convention Center. The theme this year was “New Decade — New Challenges.”
“Emergency management plays a critical role in the safety and security of our families and our communities and it’s a twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week activity that is demanding of the time, ability and emotional bandwidth of our volunteers and staff,” Gov. Tony Evers said as he opened the conference. “I’ve seen them work firsthand in my travels across the state this past year when disasters have happened like flooding or high winds. There are always people ready and able to help.”
Wisconsin Emergency Management Administrator Dr. Darrell L. Williams provided a glimpse into the new decade of emergency management with evolving technologies and cultural attitudes. Williams said we must either change with change or be consumed by change.
“The people who make that change are right here,” Williams said. “Most importantly this conference is our chance to meet and collaborate with people from across the state to take that next step into the new decade.”
Politics and emergency management will lead to that collaboration in 2020. Brig. Gen. David O’Donahue, Wisconsin’s deputy adjutant general for civil support, addressed the National Guard’s role for the Democratic National Convention this summer in Milwaukee.
“We will likely have over 2,000 service members to provide support to the DNC,” O’Donahue said, “But there will be a high level of coordination and planning between emergency management officials and the National Guard and both sides are preparing and ready for that. The Wisconsin National Guard always stands ready to support civil authorities here at home, when needed.”
New and emerging health threats are also ushering in the next decade of planning and response. FEMA Region V Administrator James Joseph shared their “Strategic Plan Progress Update” to build resilient infrastructure and communities to ready the nation for disasters, including flooding. But COVID-19 is on their radar and working with Wisconsin emergency managers will be a crucial resource in the new decade.
“We can’t be successful emergency managers without our whole community partners,” said Joseph. “We must always think ahead to the next emerging threat or disaster, and work together to build more prepared, resilient communities across Wisconsin and the Nation.”
Keynote speakers at the conference included a presentation by Scott Nethero, who made a career in emergency and crisis management with Walt Disney World. He talked about their approach to emergency management in a campus that has 38 square miles of property and 250,000 daily visitors.
There were also important sessions on mental health and coping with the stress of being a first responder. Dr. Joni Downs, of Gundersen Boscobel Area Hospitals and Clinics, specializes in psychology and behavioral health. She advocated having protocols that include stigma-free counselling.
“Mental health needs to be a part of your team effort,” Downs said, “and that’s how we’ll build a stronger community of responders.”
At 53 years, the Governor’s Conference is one of the longest running state agency conferences in Wisconsin and will continue to strengthen the mission of preparedness of emergency management well beyond the next decade.