By Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman
Over the last year, I have shared columns with you about the work of state agencies. This is the twelfth column in the “Get to Know” sequence. This week’s article is about an agency that is essential in our response to challenges we face in emergency scenarios.
It is fitting that we are highlighting NEMA this week, given the extensive work they and other key state agencies are now engaged in with the storms and flooding that have hit Nebraska, starting the first week of June. However, the work of the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) begins long before a disaster or emergency strikes.
While you may know that the employees at NEMA leads the state’s emergency response and recovery during and following a disaster, they also work to prepare for disasters and to mitigate and reduce the effects of disasters in the state. NEMA is charged with the task of reducing the vulnerabilities of people and communities throughout Nebraska from damage, injury, loss of life and property as a result of natural, technological or man-made disasters.
NEMA is housed under the Nebraska Military Department and is structured into four performance areas: administration, response and recovery, preparedness and radiological emergency preparedness. In his role as Adjutant General, Brigadier General Judd Lyons is the director of the agency. The day-to-day operations are administered by agency Assistant Director Al Berndt.
In addition to leading the state emergency management program, NEMA supports Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy in his role as Nebraska’s homeland security director. NEMA is the appointed State Administrative Agency for the state’s homeland security program and point of contact for the federal integration of emergency management and homeland security programs for the state with the Department of Homeland Security.
Through a duty-officer system, staff members of NEMA monitor the state should severe weather or emergencies threaten the state. During times of emergency, the agency is staffed by a duty officer to monitor the situation and coordinate the initial state response.
During 2009, NEMA worked to earn full accreditation from the Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP) on behalf of the entire State of Nebraska and all of the agencies and individuals who are part of our response team. The accreditation is a public validation of the state’s preparedness efforts and represents a significant honor for the state. Achieving accreditation is proof of the capability that exists among our state and local first responders and emergency management personnel, It shows that Nebraska has an effective system in place to respond to emergencies.
NEMA maintains a robust planning, training and exercise program including an annual state-level exercise, entitled TERREX, which tests the readiness of local county and state agencies and their ability to work together in a large-scale event. NEMA’s Radiological Division is responsible for the offsite planning for the states’ two nuclear power plants, maintaining plans and regularly conducting exercises in preparation for a radiological emergency. The Preparedness Division supports an active planning section that maintains both the State Emergency Operations Plan as well as Local Emergency Operations Plans in all of Nebraska’s 93 counties.
The agency’s Response and Recovery Division works with local jurisdictions affected by weather or other disasters to gather damage and needs assessments. This Division is responsible for integrating into the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) public assistance, individual assistance and hazard mitigation programs. Currently the department is working on three disaster declarations due to damage from storms in the spring and summer of 2009, ice and snow damage from storms this past winter and nine disaster declarations from previous years.
NEMA relies extensively on the full-time and part-time emergency management representatives in Nebraska’s 93 counties to carry out programs at the local level. Our partnership with local directors forms the backbone of the state program. It is one of the key reasons Nebraskans have been able to effectively respond in times of emergency. NEMA is staffed with 37 full-time employees, program contractual staff from the University of Nebraska and 3 temporary employees.
You can rest assured that NEMA is constantly working hard to improve safety even before a disaster or emergency strikes. I appreciate the work of these dedicated individuals both during the current flooding and storms and year round.
The above content reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily the policies of the National Governors Association.