County reacts to emergency management bill

Mark Schnabel
The Kansan

Squabbles between the Legislature and the governor could affect the ability of local governments to act in case of emergencies.

Changes made to the Kansas Emergency Management Act on Tuesday would redefine what constitutes an emergency.

The act as amended would allow the Legislative Coordinating Council to revoke emergency orders by the governor when the full Legislature when not in session.

“We’ve seen an evolution of our emergency operation plan over years and decades,” county emergency management director Gary Denny said. “If you go back to the Cold War era, it was specifically geared toward one specific item. Then we saw our emergency operation plans developed based on specific potentials. We had an annex in our EOP for tornadoes, we had one in there for drought, we had one in there for flooding — all these various annexes. What we found out after 10 or 20 years is, we can’t plan for everything. We’re seeing that right now for COVID. Twenty years ago, we did not have an EOP annex for COVID. What we’re involved in is an all-hazards approach.

"What the Kansas Emergency Management Association is concerned with is that legislators are going to start to define what a disaster is, and limit the flexibility of the all-hazards approach of local emergency operation plans. That is a concern. As far as adding more legislative oversight to the process, in our opinion from the Kansas Emergency Management Association, that oversight is going to create a more cumbersome process. When we activate our emergency operations process, we typically need resources and we need resources now. That’s what it’s there for. To create more oversight and more steps to the process, is going to be more cumbersome and delay the resources we need locally from the state or federal response.”

“We need to be aware that changes to the Emergency Management Act could vastly impact local ability to get resources for other emergencies such as tornadoes, fires, floods and other things of that nature,” Harvey County Administrator Anthony Swartzendruber said. “Hopefully, they’re thinking of the long-term view and not just the short term in trying to argue, or have differences in opinion with the governor with regard to how emergencies should be handled.”

In his routine report to the county commission, Denny said the county received an average of 1.5 inches of rain last week. He said upcoming forecasts show the potential of up to two inches between Tuesday night and the end of the week

“We are in the season of weather,” Denny said. “We want to push for people to stay weather aware this time of year and beware of the forecast ahead.”

Mark Schnabel can be reached at mschnabel@thekansan.com