Jones, Beebe discuss Arkansas Sheriffs’ Task Force
By JOHN WORTHEN News-Times Staff If disaster strikes, Arkansas isn’t ready.
This sobering news was handed down last week by the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management and immediately alarmed many public offi cials across the state, including Union County Sheriff Ken Jones and Arkansas Attorney General Mike Beebe.
In a joint phone interview Thursday with the El Dorado News-T imes, Jones and Beebe addressed concerns about the ADEM announcement, as well as their own plans to prepare Arkansas for the worst.
Over the past several weeks, Jones has been working on behalf of the Arkansas Sheriffs’ Association as chairman of the newly created Arkansas Sheriffs’ Task Force, an agency designed to network all 75 county sheriffs’ offi ces during a disaster.
Modeled after the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Task Force, which Jones described as "very effective " in the days after Hurricane Katrina, the ASTF will step in when federal and state offi cials are unavailable.
The idea immediately caught the attention of Beebe, who as the Democratic nominee for Arkansas governor has his own plans for state disaster relief. Jones said the task force’s plans go hand in hand with what Beebe has lined out over the past several months. "We are all interested in doing the same thing," Jones said. "We learned during Katrina that we can’t depend on the federal government to help us, so the sheriffs decided that we can turn to each other. It’s just a good concept, and General Beebe has helped us put this together."
One of the ASTF’s chief goals is to create a database detailing what each sheriffs’ association member can offer during a disaster. Under the plan, things like tools, equipment, available manpower and other resources will be listed in the database, allowing any county in the state to request the items in an emergency.
Jones said the idea worked fl awlessly in Louisiana after Katrina, even spilling over the border into Arkansas, as he and other county sheriffs helped their neighbors during the recovery effort.
Union County transported 16,000 gallons of gasoline to South Louisiana after Katrina struck, and Jones worked closely with the LSTF on numerous aid projects.
Beebe lauded Jones’ work, calling his leadership "a role model for the project."
"Ken has really been modest about this," Beebe said. "It’s his leadership and his experience in Louisiana that’s brought this project to the forefront.
Law enforcement is the fi rst line of defense in a disaster, saving lives and creating stability and safety. The sheriffs are in a situation to do this, but they can’t do it alone." Beebe’s own plan will step in to network Arkansas’ sheriffs with county judges, emergency medical technicians and other local offi cials, tying a massive emergency response effort together one county at time. Teamwork, Beebe and Jones agreed, is the key to making the new emergency response network a success. "The sheriff can’t do anything alone," said Jones. "It takes medical personnel, ambulances, highway department, county judges, people responsible for shelters and everyone else coming together as one team to deal with a situation like Katrina."
If elected governor, Beebe plans to use the ASTF as a model to create a state-side emergency response network. In a press release obtained by the News-Times Thursday, Beebe outlined two phases of his disaster relief plan.
Phase one includes "getting our own house in order fi rst," referring to the ADEM’s announcement that Arkansas is ill prepared for a major disaster. As a fi rst step, Beebe proposes funding for local governments that are fi nancially strapped and cannot afford to implement emergency preparedness plans.
Beebe added that he would "use the governor’s offi ce to request federal resources for the position, would explore options for pooling resources on a regional basis and would examine the potential for state matching funds."
Phase two of his project includes preparing for largescale disasters like earthquakes, a pandemic, terrorist attack or chemical spill.
Jones, who has experience working with other states, said his goal as chairman of the ASTF is to help Beebe establish ties to places like Texas and Louisiana, as well as linking all of Arkansas’ sheriffs together with Beebe’s larger state network.
"It’s a great concept," Jones said. "We’re really going to have to bring all Arkansas government entities together at one table, and I think that’s what we are trying to do at this point. We have to talk about a plan, and we have to work together in times of disaster."