Following the wake of disaster, the spark of an idea was born — an idea now fully coming to fruition.
Seeing the struggles providing shelter in the aftermath of the fire at Newton's Midtown Towers in October 2015, Emergency Management Director Gary Denny noted a need for resources was made clear, leading him to take on a project establishing an emergency resource trailer — to meet those shelter needs whenever and wherever they may arise — for Harvey County.
"I think the concept was born when we had Midtown Towers and we found ourselves trying to, logistically, put together a shelter for displaced residents at Midtown Towers," Denny said. "We had a lot of displaced residents from Midtown Towers and it was a shelter challenge."
Coordinating efforts between the South Central Kansas Homeland Security Council and the American Red Cross, Denny took the lead on the project to establish the emergency trailers to address shelter needs in the region. Originally, the goal was to create 12 mobile trailers for counties in south central Kansas, but the final funding provided allowed for the establishment of six trailers — with work being completed this past week.
Funding for the trailers ($30,000 total) was provided by Homeland Security, while resources will be provided by Red Cross. Items to be provided for the trailers include 20 cots, 20 pillows and 40 blankets, as well as a various number of personal hygiene kits and any other resources the individual counties feel need to be included.
While the Red Cross is often called upon for shelter needs in emergency situations, Denny noted Newton Police Department Chaplain Jason Reynolds (with the Community Chaplain Response Team) ran into challenges trying to get those resources to Newton quickly following the Midtown fire.
Expecting that will be the case in various other scenarios (i.e. winter storms) in which Harvey County may need assistance establishing temporary shelters, and not knowing exactly where those may occur, Denny admitted that was a big reason behind the push to create the emergency trailers and the resources they will provide such shelters established at churches, schools, etc. across the county.
"The Red Cross has that inventory today, but it's limited in its deployment," Denny said. "It's of greater value for us to have the base necessities already here in Harvey County."
Looking at the bigger picture, as well, having the trailers in multiple counties across the region is something Denny said could be valuable in case of any large scale events.
On top of the six trailers being provided currently (to Harvey, Kingman, Comanche, Butler, Rice and Edwards counties), Denny noted a phase two of the project for six additional trailers has already been approved.
Knowing all those trailers will have the same basic inventory lets Harvey County and others in the area know just what resources will be available in the case of any type of emergency or disaster situation.
"We'll be able to organize all those trailers to accommodate 240 people for a mass shelter, if need be," Denny said. "Not only is this a benefit to Harvey County, but it's a benefit to south central Kansas as well."
Room to expand the inventory of the trailers is an option that will be easy to facilitate, as Denny noted each trailer is stocked with job boxes that can be stacked to one side, with plenty of room left to fill the trailer with whatever items (cots, medical kits, etc.) each county feels is needed.
For Denny, he noted he wants to keep the resources in the trailer consistent, which is why he said he would likely discuss any potential additions with the CCRT — given the genesis of the project and the similar shelter needs that organization helps address.
Usually filling the role of assessor or evaluator in a given incident, Denny noted the Emergency Management Department will get great value out of a physical asset like the emergency trailer — an area in which the department itself saw a great need for the county.
"This is one of those areas that we thought we were somewhat vulnerable in," Denny said, "so now, I think we're blessed to have this resource local."