February 1, 2017 Edition

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Jones is new director of
Emergency Management

Chris Jones

Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

Imboden Mayor and Walnut Ridge Assistant Fire Chief Chris Jones recently put on another hat as County Judge John Thomison named him the new Office of Emergency Management director.

Jones, a firefighter of 25 years, has hit the ground running with his new responsibilities coordinating resources and providing information to emergency response agencies across the county.

He is also working to clarify some misconceptions surrounding his position. "We're not there to take over, we provide a service," Jones said on the office's role when responding to incidents. He said he is there to ask what is needed and request equipment and additional responders if required.

In between incidents, Jones will focus on promoting communication between the various departments across the county, as well as gathering information about available resources.

Jones, along with Deputy Director Wes Lillard, works closely with Thomison, elected officials and emergency responders to develop plans for different types of emergency situations, as well as setting up programs and drills.

There are already plans for a drill in the fall with the Lawrence County Health Unit that would focus on mass vaccinations. Jones explained that directors are required to attend three drills a year, which provides a good opportunity to learn about departments in other counties.

As the local connection to resources in neighboring counties, the region and the state, communication and recognition is one of the most important parts of the job. Jones said attending drills in other counties provides an opportunity to become familiar with the departments there, which is helpful in cross-county incidents.

"Everything we do has to do with preparedness," Jones said. He will reach out to neighboring county judges and departments to help everyone be as prepared as possible. He added that the Walnut Ridge HAZMAT team has already been a resource to several other counties.

"In small rural Arkansas, it's impossible to be self-sufficient, the resources aren't there," Jones said. "We've got to help each other."

In addition to open communication with responders and officials throughout Lawrence and neighboring counties, Jones said he is also going to work to inform the public. He said weather is a major concern and he hopes to arrange a public meeting with a National Weather Service representative to help educate the public.

Jones added that he also wants to provide information to the public about what to do in an emergency situation, stating the most important thing is for them to stay calm and listen to emergency personnel.

He commended the public and those involved in organizing the evacuation following the train derailment in 2014. Jones said the evacuation went very smooth and people were cooperative.

Other responsibilities Jones oversees as emergency manger include assuring relief funds are spent correctly, working with schools and child care facilities to develop emergency plans and forming a Local Emergency Planning Committee, which will include representatives from multiple departments, utility providers, municipalities and emergency care providers.

Jones said he is looking forward to working with everyone and helping the community. A third generation firefighter, Jones said this is what he was born to do.

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