Although this is only my second winter in Cimarron County I think I can say the blizzard from the last of 2006 and first of 2007 was one to be remembered for many reasons. As I have told some of you I spent three winters in Wyoming in the early 1990s early in my career so this was far from my first. It had been a while however.
Storms of this magnitude and other catastrophic events (all things considered I think this blizzard qualifies as a catastrophe) often bring out the best in people, and the worst in others. I will not name specific people because I would undoubtedly forget to mention someone who deserved praise. I will say that while in and out of the fair building during the days following the start of the blizzard it was heartwarming to see all those who were there to help others. A few seemed to be there throughout the entire time. Many thanks to them. Anyone reading this who spent any time at all around the fair building/command post likely noticed, as I did, those who were there to help a great deal of the time. Please thank them for all they did. All the private citizens who were out using their own equipment to move snow are also heroes. Many thanks to them too.
As always, there are lessons to be learned from events such as this. First of all, it is clear to me most of us have became far too reliant on cordless phones. They are useless when the power is out. We should all have at least one corded phone which will work in the event of a power outage.
Secondly we, and I include myself as having learned, can never have too many supplies during winter. Canned goods are essential. Camping appliances are wonderful to have around as well. The small propane cylinders or Coleman fuel are a good thing to have plenty of also. A few containers of fresh water are a good idea.
The most incredible thing I saw was that when the power failed, as with the storm back in early summer, our local 911 center was down. That is the Cimarron County Dispatch at Cimarron S.O. I do not like to sound critical of our community but not having a backup generator to keep the only 911 center in this county up and running during a time of crisis is simply unbelievable in the year 2007.
Cimarron S.O. dispatches for fire, law enforcement and ambulance services. We all know the S.O. is located in the courthouse. We are simply too far and too isolated from other cities to depend on help from elsewhere. For the first hour to a few hours we must “go it alone”. That is a time lives can depend on an emergency call center. When the power goes out, the only communications possible with the dispatcher at the S.O. is with a walkie talkie and one phone line. The range on a walkie talkie is barely enough to talk to a patrol unit, fire truck or ambulance within the city limits of Boise City. Forget it a few miles out. That one phone line was jammed almost hopelessly during the blizzard. We must all work together to fix this problem.
No emergency generator is not just the sheriff's problem. It is the problem of every resident of Cimarron County. It is the problem of the towns of Boise City, Keyes, Felt, and Kenton as well as everyone who resides in the county. If you can not talk to emergency units, what can anyone do to help anyone??? When people start to panic they could jam 10 phone lines at the S.O., but one just isn't enough. The teletype to communicate with other agencies outside the county is also useless with no power. In short, our dispatch center is close to worthless when the power is out.
A good, modern backup generator suitable to run the S.O. would be expensive. I would guess between five and ten thousand dollars. Considering the jail is on another floor and that the courthouse is essential to the operation of this county I would think a generator large enough to run the entire courthouse, at least on a limited basis would be best. No power to the jail and one inmate just claiming health related problems would likely cost this county much more than the cost of installing a modern backup generator. Someone dying due to not getting emergency help could result in the county being sued. Just the cost of defending such a suit would likely exceed the cost of a generator. Portables are not acceptable. A modern standby generator is what it takes to assure a 911 center stays up and running during an outage without delay. We can no longer afford NOT to have a backup generator for the sheriff's office. I heard several people, all of whom have been in this county a long time express amazement that there was no such generator in place. We can afford it. We can not afford not to have it......
The time for half measures and talk has ended. We, and I mean WE, as a community and county need to do whatever it takes to be certain that the next time we are ready. It could be years before another storm like this one strikes us. But it could be next week. Frankly, I was embarrassed explaining over and over again to emergency people from downstate and stranded motorists why we had almost no emergency communications during the first two days of the storm. Waiting next time on a generator from Enid to get here through blizzard conditions might not happen. They might not even be available next time. We may not be so lucky to regain power in two days.
For those who would listen to a 19-year lawman who has seen many storms and tragedies I ask you to twist the arms of those in positions to make this happen. We can not afford to wait until next year any longer. Stay tuned.........
Truly, A Trooper's Perspective........
Trooper Duane Johnson #280
Oklahoma Highway Patrol