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Emergency manager prepares area for challenging situations

As the emergency manager for Roswell and Chaves County, Karen Sanders leads efforts to prepare for potential natural disasters and other emergencies in Roswell, Dexter, Hagerman, Lake Arthur and other areas throughout Chaves County. (Submitted Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

When Karen Sanders took the job of Roswell/Chaves County Emergency Manager six years ago, one of her first challenges was making sense of the alphabet soup that is the acronyms representing the wide variety of terminology used by so many emergency-management agencies she deals with.

From IAP (Incident Action Plan), EOC (Emergency Operations Center) and MACS (Multi-Agency Coordination System) to NIMS (National Incident Management System), MAA (Mutual Aid Agreement) and HMGP (Hazard Mitigation Grant Program), there is a long list of what may look like a jumble of letters to most people, but are key parts of the communication and planning Sanders does on a regular basis.

“It is its own language,” says Sanders, who today speaks this language fluently.

Sanders stepped into the role of emergency manager in October 2012 after working 10 years as an administrative assistant for the Roswell Fire Department. This Roswell native and Roswell High School graduate is now tasked with putting Roswell and surrounding areas in a good position to handle bad situations.

“Trying to prepare the community for the worst possible event that could happen,” Sanders says in summarizing her job. “Anything from a natural disaster — tornadoes, floods — to a terrorist attack to a pandemic flu.”

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Making that preparation happen and keeping it up to date requires a wide variety of tasks to be accomplished. A sampling of Sanders’ responsibilities includes arranging meetings to bring together public officials to discuss emergency preparations, setting up training opportunities and exercises involving multiple agencies, updating resource lists and agency contacts, responding to inquiries and requests from government officials and the public, and writing grant applications.

“It’s never the same thing,” Sanders notes. “Every day is different.”

The grant writing is an important part of the job since federal and state grant money often pay for equipment, training or other items that are key to local emergency responders being well prepared for potential incidents. Sanders makes sure an official hazard mitigation plan is done every five years, a requirement in order to receive federal funding to assist in paying for local hazard mitigation efforts.

“The grant money is very helpful in helping us move forward with large expenses,” Sanders explains.

In her six years on the job as emergency manager, Sanders has secured $2.7 million in grants for Chaves County and its communities. Using that money most effectively, as well as educating citizens with the best information, to ensure everyone is as prepared as possible for emergencies, begins by knowing what the local risks truly are for natural disasters and other incidents.

“We’re not going to have a volcano here. We’re not going to have a hurricane here,” Sanders says. “What are we going to have here? We’re going to have floods. We could have snowstorms. We could have high-wind events. We have had some of those things.

“For us, it’s trying to have a plan in place, have done some training, so that when these events do happen, we’re able to efficiently handle them and then get back to business as normal.”

While weather emergencies are the most common events in Roswell and the surrounding area that Sanders has to deal with, the area has also seen things such as train derailments and hazardous-materials spills. A recent multi-agency exercise in Roswell focused on the response to a highway accident involving a truck delivering radioactive waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad.

In preparing for emergencies, Sanders not only works regularly with government officials and first-responders such as police, firefighters and medics, but also coordinates with hospitals and private service agencies such as the Red Cross. Each one plays a role in properly responding to an emergency. And so do the local citizens themselves.

“I think there’s a misconception that if a disaster was to happen, the first-responders could be everywhere at one time,” Sanders says. “We’re wanting people to take accountability and be able to sustain themselves for 72 hours. A lot of time people don’t prepare.”

Sanders urges people to stock a sufficient amount of supplies to take care of them and their family if they are unable to get to additional resources for an extended time. She also reminds people to watch and listen to news broadcasts for the latest information and warnings when severe weather is approaching or another emergency situation is possible. Citizens can also get the latest information and any instructions during emergencies by following the Facebook page she posts on (Roswell/Chaves County Office of Emergency Management) and those for the City of Roswell, Roswell Fire Department and Roswell Police Department. In addition, people can sign up for emergency alerts at the Office of Emergency Management’s webpage (roswell-nm.gov/Emergency-Management) on the City of Roswell website.

One of the most satisfying aspects of her job, according to Sanders, is “the ability to interact with just a vast array of individuals at different levels of government, from federal to state to local, as well as other administrators and first-responders.”

Leading them in the effort to do the best to prepare for the worst.

By Todd Wildermuth, City of Roswell public information officer

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