Behind the scenes of a pandemic; emergency management’s silent role

PRINCETON – “COVID has affected my office drastically.”

That’s perhaps an understatement by Bureau County Emergency Management Agency Director Keenan Campbell.

As an EMA Director, he serves as a subject matter expert in severe weather, large incidents, incident management, grant management and hazardous materials incidents.

“Basically any incident that expands beyond the capabilities of the local response agency falls to EMA to assist to bring the incident to a rapid conclusion,” Campbell said.

Normally the agency responsible for responding to any and all local disasters, natural or manmade, the local EMA has stepped up over the past year to partner with the Bureau, Marshall and Putnam County Health Departments and other local agencies to coordinate COVID-19-related logistics.

Campbell said over the months-long pandemic response, his office has been tasked with procuring, packaging and distributing personal protective equipment to all first-responder agencies, distributing over 85,000 pieces of personal protective equipment.

“I’ve also been logistics support for test sites,” he said, “including designing and implementing traffic plans along with providing logistics support for vaccination clinics.”

Campbell said he also designed and implemented technology to track people when they come to a vaccine clinic as well as the drivers license scanner system that tracks vaccine distribution, speeding up the data entry and preventing clerical errors.

Additionally, he says, EMA also has been tasked with grant management related to COVID-19, managing the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Cure Grant for all Bureau County agencies, including tracking costs, procuring equipment, submitting reimbursement requests and grant reporting.

“EMA is an agency of technology and logistics,” Campbell said. “COVID-19 has proved challenging as our agency was tasked with PPE procurement, distribution and grant management.”

“In addition to COVID, EMA was one of the only emergency management agencies in the state to manage three concurrent disaster declarations: COVID disaster, DePue flash flooding and then the derecho in August that affected the EMA warehouse roof, and caused the failure of the [Bureau Emergency Communications] tower and structural damage to the roof,“ Campbell said.

So who does all this behind the scenes work? Surprisingly, EMA consists of just one full-time director, although there are also numerous volunteers.

Campbell said he did get some assistance when a part-time warehouse clerk was hired for six months under the CURE grant to assist with warehouse operations related to COVID-19. Currently all other functions are handled by the director with assistance from EMA volunteers as available.

The regular role of the EMA director includes the homeland security advisor to the Bureau County board chairperson, Campbell said. On a daily basis, the director receives various briefings from state and federal partners and plans for the Bureau County response.

As part of his duties, Campbell prepares reports to the chairperson on the status of the county in the form of a situation report or SITREP for short. This document can contain information about threats and hazards, as well as recommendations.

EMA also maintains weather briefings that are provided 24/7/365 to all county agencies and stakeholders each morning at 5:30 a.m. These briefings are used for planning severe weather events, staffing and facility closure decision support.

“Bureau County EMA is in constant contact with state and federal partners, and serves as the link between the county and these partners to request assistance during an incident or disaster.

“EMA maintains technology to support our Emergency Operations Center in the event of a disaster,” Campbell said. “Bureau County currently keeps this technology in portable cases to setup an EOC when needed, because we currently do not have a stand-alone building dedicated to this function.”

EMA maintains a 10,000-square-foot disaster recovery warehouse that currently houses vehicles and deployment assets that Bureau County EMA owns, he said. This facility also proved instrumental in the PPE distribution operations.

“We were receiving semitrucks of PPE weekly and repackaging and distributing PPE to all county agencies and first responders,” Campbell said.

Campbell said EMA is an agency that is mandated by the State of Illinois and FEMA. Funding for the office is 50% funded by FEMA via a yearly Emergency Management Performance Grant. The agency is responsible for writing the County Emergency Operations Plan, as well as the operation and management of the County Emergency Operations Center. The budget, he said, is set by the Bureau County Board.

In addition to the other functions, Campbell serves on the Illinois Terrorism Task Force Statewide Incident Management Team. The IL-IMT is made up of EMA directors, fire chiefs, sheriffs and others from across Illinois who respond to incidents anywhere in the state or the country.

“This mutual-aid concept works well to assist Bureau County in times of need,” he said. “The EMA director can call upon the statewide team to deploy to Bureau County as witnessed during the DePue flooding.

“My experience with disasters has benefited the county when it comes to COVID in many ways. EMA does logistics well and managed all PPE distribution for all public safety.”

Although Putnam County, by size, is much smaller, its emergency management director has just as large a part in COVID-19 mitigation efforts as every other county.

“During the pandemic, I have been putting in orders with IEMA for PPE, received the orders and distributed the requests for PPE for our first responder agencies, health department, assisted living facility, schools, elections, library and courthouse,” Director Chauntelle Biagi-Bruer said. “I have been working with my Emergency Management partners in neighboring counties [Marshall, Henry/Stark, LaSalle, Mercer, Bureau and Ogle] during the pandemic to ensure we have the PPE we need and we all work together to help each other with whatever the task is. I have also helped our different taxing bodies that were eligible for public assistance funds from FEMA or Local CURE funds from the Illinois DCEO get the information they need to be able to apply for reimbursements.

“I worked with our courthouse offices to get the information needed to submit Putnam County’s Local CURE reimbursement and I submitted that reimbursement request on behalf of the county and Putnam County received all $103,215 that they were allotted by DCEO,” she said.

“I have worked with MABAS 57 to transport their tent city trailer to Rochelle to be utilized as a COVID-19 testing site. My volunteers and other MABAS 57 members helped with the transport and setup also. I have worked with the health department to support them with parking plans, logistical support, delivery of PPE and any other needs they have had during the pandemic. As the lead agency during the pandemic, the health department and their staff have done a great job adapting, planning and delivering on all of the tasks for the pandemic, and I will continue to support them as needed as we all work together.”

Biagi-Buer said Putnam County Emergency Management has supported first responders and the health department during this pandemic in whatever role or capacity they need on any given day.

“We have all worked together to provide the services needed for our agencies and our citizens that we represent. Also, I do not do this alone, I have a very part-time assistant that helps deliver equipment and trailers where needed and I have also utilized volunteers when needed. Our county board has also been a part of the process by giving me the resources I need to be able to offer support to our stakeholders,” she said.

“During this entire pandemic it has taken the work of many people, departments and stakeholders to get to this point. It has been a team effort and we truly are all in this together. "