OST Emergency Management Plan Ready For Anything
PINE RIDGE—The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is made up of a diverse and sprawling 3,469 square miles of mostly rural terrain. So when an emergency occurs the tribe’s emergency management department needs to be ready for anything
For more than a decade OST has had an emergency management department in place. That department, however, had fallen by the wayside during past administrations.
With the election of Scott Weston to the OST presidency, and the hiring of a Steve Wilson in October as OST’s Emergency Management Director, the department now has the backing of the President’s office and a leader at the helm.
“The President’s office has been pushing us to get things done,” said Steve Wilson, OST Emergency Management Director. “Things have been pretty busy with the recent cold weather and we had spent most of the day responding to emergencies,” added Wilson.
As the director Wilson’s work should be in the office behind a desk, but with a limited staff and a high number of emergency situations occurring this winter he has spent the majority of his time in the field. On Tuesday, the tribe had multiple house fires, several residents still trapped from this weekend’s snow storms, and a search and rescue effort that ended after first responders found the body of a tribal citizen who had succumbed to the elements after walking away from a residence on Sunday night.
When the Oglala Sioux Tribal President signs an emergency declaration it allows for resources from all tribal programs to be pooled and utilized in order to respond to a situation. The tribe’s Emergency Management department is then responsible for organizing and utilizing those resources in the most effective way possible.
“It is important that the people know exactly what it is we do,” said Wilson. “Some people thought we were an assistance program but that isn’t our primary purpose. We hope to be able to provide some of those services to people in the future but we are not there yet.”
Additionally Emergency Management is designed to help prevent future disaster situations by helping to develop laws and policies within the tribe. Currently, a large amount of resources are being spent on rescuing tribal citizens who have chosen to place their homes miles off the main road but have no means of navigating hazardous and often snowblocked roads. Proper zoning laws could help alleviate the pressure on first responders to deal with many of those situations.
The program is in its infancy but we want to push it in a direction that allows it to start doing what it’s supposed to do,” added Wilson.
Wilson said that the message the Emergency Management wants people to hear is that weather warnings and road closures must be taken seriously.
“We need people to take the warnings serious and to stay off the roads when they are closed,” said Wilson.
(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at firstname.lastname@example.org)