#LOCAL HEROES: Sweetwater County COVID-19 Emergency Operations Center

#LOCAL HEROES: Sweetwater County COVID-19 Emergency Operations Center

Sweetwater County COVID-19 Emergency Operations Center Incident Commander and County Commission Chairman Randy “Doc” Wendling.

These are your #LocalHeroesordinary people doing extraordinary things in Sweetwater County. This SweetwaterNOW series highlights those often unnoticed acts of kindness to the incredible actions of many in our community.

The Sweetwater County COVID-19 Emergency Operations Center was a prime example of banding together to help keep the people of Sweetwater County informed about the COVID-19 Coronavirus.

In early March, Sweetwater County Public Health, Sweetwater County Health Officer Dr. Jean Stachon and the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office’s Emergency Management Unit were keeping tabs on the progression of the disease across the country. At the same time, local law enforcement, fire services, EMS, the communications center and the chambers of commerce also came together in an effort to manage the growing public information crisis caused by the pandemic.

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“While both groups began independent of each other and each was attempting to address the issue from different angles, we all eventually coalesced into the emergency operations center, which officially culminated with the execution of a memorandum of understanding by all participating agencies,” the center’s PIO Jason Mower said.

Those involved in the center’s daily operations were selected from some of Sweetwater County’s finest men and women.

“The members of the EOC were drawn from that pool and represent folks who exemplify an attitude of service,” Mower said. “It’s easy to be motivated when working with caring professionals who strive to do the best in every endeavor they choose to address.”

With multiple agencies and different perspectives from the center’s command team, one of the biggest challenges the center faced was getting everyone on the same page.

“We’ve faced several challenges along the way,” Mower said. “The first was getting the group all pulling together in the same direction, so to speak. Not because of any disagreement or discord, but simply because of the logistics involved in undertaking such a monumental task in an unprecedented time of crisis. The sheer amount of information and uncertainty about what would happen next really hampered our ability to objectively respond to questions and develop firm strategies to accomplish our objectives.”

Despite the ups and downs along with accompanied uncertainty, the center was most proud to look after and support the community during the pandemic.

“We are most proud to serve as an asset to the community and to help provide timely and accurate information through a constantly changing environment filled with uncertainty and real loss in our community,” Mower said.

Mower also included that the pandemic has served as a strong reminder of the importance to be prepared and trained for challenging circumstances.

“While not a new lesson, planning for major events through table-top exercises and scenario-based training helps prepare all of us of the next event – whether it be natural or manmade,” Mower said.

Throughout the center’s three months of operation, the EOC procured and distributed a total of 3,450 N95 masks, 220 3D-printed reusable N95 masks, 5,280 surgical masks, 185 face shields, 2,500 isolation gowns and approximately 250 gallons of hand sanitizer to over 20 different entities across the county. Some of those entities included local nursing homes, the hospital, home health agencies and emergency first responders.

Many masks along with other valuable donations were provided by the community to various entities during the height of the pandemic in Sweetwater County. Similar to that of the center’s mission, Mower said the residents of the county share the same goal to take care of one another.

“Our local community is our single greatest asset – when the chips are down, the residents of Sweetwater County know how to dig in and support each other and help carry forward the mission of taking care of each other.”

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