Planning for the unexpected or unknown, such as natural or manmade disasters or other emergencies, is a challenging task. If the community and its citizens do get plunged into an emergency situation, it is critically important to have a well-thought-out and organized plan. Effective emergency management protects communities by coordinating and integrating all activities needed to mitigate against, prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies that can be natural disasters, acts of terrorism or public health emergencies such as a pandemic.
This is the task that faces Roswell/Chaves County Emergency Manager Karen Sanders each day as she operates the one-person Office of Emergency Management shared by five governmental jurisdictions: City of Roswell, Chaves County, Town of Dexter, Town of Hagerman and Town of Lake Arthur.
“One of my most important roles is to keep city and county government officials, as well as community partners, up to date,” Sanders explains. “During COVID, this has included daily conference calls with the State Emergency Operations Center, weekly meetings with community partners such as hospitals, public health (agencies), schools and government officials, and daily texts with COVID case information to many agencies throughout Chaves County. We are currently working with hospitals and public health officials on COVID vaccine planning and having a flexible plan in place as COVID vaccines become available.”
Roswell/Chaves County Emergency Manager Karen Sanders
Sanders, who has been emergency manager since November 2012, notes COVID response has been ongoing since the pandemic began impacting New Mexico around March 2020. Some of her typical COVID-related duties have included revising and updating plans, helping with test sites, placing resource requests and tracking costs.
Sanders’ job functions have been greatly impacted by the pandemic.
“Normally, an incident happens, like a flood or tornado, and you spend a short amount of time in response, before moving into recovery and getting back to normal,” she explains. “COVID is unusual in that we have been in response mode for 10 months now. The majority of my time for the last 10 months has been spent dealing with and responding to COVID.”
Before COVID interrupted everyone’s life, a day in the Office of Emergency Management might include working on emergency plans, scheduling meetings and trainings, coordinating an exercise, or researching grant opportunities. Of course, all that is subject to change if an emergency takes place, during which Sanders’ role switches to one of support and coordination efforts.
Sanders is a Certified Emergency Manager in New Mexico, which is achieved by a certification process through the New Mexico Association of Emergency Management Professionals. She has been honored by the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, which selected Sanders as 2019 Emergency Manager of the Year.
Sanders is responsible for overseeing all functions related to a disaster.
“Emergency management is an ongoing process to prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from an incident,” she says, describing each step as follows:
Prevention focuses on things done before an incident to reduce the chance of an emergency happening or reduce the impact of unavoidable emergencies. Examples are conducting threat and vulnerability assessments, and establishing building codes.
Preparedness includes plans or preparations made to save lives and help response and rescue operations. Examples include creating evacuation plans or disaster plans and then practicing carrying out those plans through drills or exercises. Another example would be installing outdoor warning sirens and doing public education so citizens know what to do when they hear them.
Response involves activating the preparedness plans during a disaster or other emergency. Examples include opening a shelter or ordering resources such as equipment. During COVID, this has included requesting personal protective equipment and other equipment for healthcare agencies, public health entities, hospitals, schools, long-term care facilities and correctional facilities.
Recovery is getting back to normal after an incident. This usually takes place after an emergency and could include seeking financial assistance to help cover costs of an incident.
Sanders emphasizes “work is being done on a continuous basis to ensure the safety and security of citizens in Chaves County,” and she urges citizens to take action by doing the following:
Stay informed: Know what types of disasters can happen and how to get additional information. Citizens can sign up for CivicReady, the local mass-notification system found on the websites of the City of Roswell (roswell-nm.gov) and Chaves County (chavescounty.gov). Citizens can also purchase a NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) weather radio (around $20) to receive emergency weather alerts.
Build a kit: Have an emergency kit consisting of enough food, water and other supplies to last 72 hours in the event of an emergency.
For more information about emergency preparedness, Sanders can be reached at (575) 624-6740. Information from the Roswell/Chaves County Office of Emergency Management can also be found on Facebook, as well as the City of Roswell website.