Genesee County agencies want a better disaster response - ABC 12 – WJRT – Flint, MI

Genesee County agencies want a better disaster response

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(02/24/14) - People in Genesee County, and county leaders, are disappointed with the way services were provided after this winter's big storms.

The county say it's looking to improve responses during the next emergency.

Last month, a committee was formed to examine how Genesee County handled the December ice storm and the snow storm that followed in January. They have found plenty of room for improvement.

"Disasters never happen Monday through Friday, 8 to 5," said Lindsey Younger, president and CEO of Resource Genesee.

The panel looking into county emergency preparedness says the poor and the sick had the toughest time getting through the winter storms.

"It was frightening. We heard some stories of people who needed dialysis," Younger said.

Agencies like the Red Cross and the State Department of Human Services say they were disappointed with the level of communication they had with each other while trying to help those in need.

"Whether you've got somebody homebound, wheelchair bound, on dialysis or whatever, the needs of that district can be brought back to the human services agencies to make sure that we are out there and providing service," said Sandi Mose, Michigan Department of Human Services.

Resource Genesee says - at times - agencies supposed to provide help failed to connect to people needing food, shelter and medicine.

"During an emergency, we need to step up and we need to be there 24-7," Younger said.

 "We have to make a commitment to serve the needs of Genesee County in whatever ways we can to meet the needs of the people," Mose said.

The agencies want to set up a communications network so they can better coordinate and deliver services the next time disaster hits.

"We need to be our brother's keeper, our neighbor's keepers," Younger said.

At Monday's meeting, the chairman of the Genesee County Board of Commissioners also defended his decision to not declare a state of emergency after the storms.

Jamie Curtis was roundly criticized for not doing more right after the two storms - but he says he has limited power.

Curtis says he didn't declare of state of emergency after the ice storm because it would have offered no hope to those affected by the prolonged outages.

A state of emergency could have allowed the county to ask the state or federal government for reimbursement for expenses incurred, but Curtis told a panel of human service providers and other agencies affected by the storms that it's very hard to qualify for government help.

During the January snow storm, Curtis decided to keep county offices - including courts - open, despite the difficulty many people experienced trying to travel on snow-covered roads.

He says county employees can refuse to come to work if they feel road conditions are too dangerous.

Curtis told the committee that is looking to improve emergency preparedness that he stands by his decision.

"I'm a leader, and leaders take responsibility for what happens. I took responsibility for the decision I made. But I also want you all to know, because you all provide services to the many people of Genesee County that my decision was very well communicated with the experts that we, as a board of commissioners, rely on," Curtis said.

Monday was the second time the panel has met. A third and final meeting is set for March.

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