By Steve Larson
Public Affairs Office
This article is the first in a series about the roles and responsibilities of the Kansas Division of Emergency Management.
Tornadoes. Floods. Blizzards. Wildfires. These are just a few of the natural or man-made disasters that have plagued the people of Kansas since the days the pioneers first pushed west across the prairie. Back then, help – if it came at all – came from neighbors, who may live miles away. An expanding population soon required an expansion of resources to deal with widespread disasters.
Today, when such a disaster overwhelms the resources of one of the state’s 105 counties, emergency management officials in that county look to the Kansas Division of Emergency Management for support. Sitting at the helm of that division is the state’s adjutant general, who is also the leader of the Kansas National Guard, a state military position. The man in that position since 2011 is Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli.
“State statues, specifically in Kansas Statutes Annotated 48-907, lays out the authority of the adjutant general to also be the director of emergency management,” explained Tafanelli. “The statutues outline the roles and responsibilities of the adjutant general as it relates to emergency management here in Kansas
“The adjutant general’s’ authorities are driven by statutes and those specific authorities granted by the governor,” said Tafanelli. “Many of the adjutants general across the nation have multiple duties. With some it’s emergency management; a number may have veteran’s affairs, homeland security or other public safety type responsibilities. Maybe a third of the adjutants general across the nation have emergency management in their portfolio.”
In Kansas, this dual-hat position was a result of the way the division came about. The State Civil Defense Agency was established in 1951 as a result of the Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950. The State Civil Defense Agency was charged with providing civil defense to protect life and property in Kansas from nuclear attack, but did not address other disasters. In 1955, the State Civil Defense Agency became part of the Adjutant General’s Department.
The agency’s name was changed in 1975 to Division of Emergency Preparedness to reflect its role in natural disaster response and preparedness. It was redesignated as the Kansas Division of Emergency Management in 1993.
Since becoming adjutant general, Tafanelli has directed the state’s emergency response in numerous disasters – tornadoes, floods, winter storms, and, most recently, widespread wildfires that consumed more than 650,000 acres in multiple counties – acting as the governor’s agent to protect the people of Kansas. Tafanelli said the guiding document for emergency management practices and policies in the state is the Kansas Response Plan.
“The Kansas Response Plan is what drives emergency preparedness, response and recovery in the state of Kansas,” said Tafanelli. “It outlines the strategies, concepts, the assumptions and the practices for both the local level and the state level and how we interface with the federal level for emergency management and disaster planning in the state.
“It’s all built on the National Incident Management System framework,” he continued, “but the basic premise of the Kansas Response Plan – and this is very important for Kansas and probably most other places – is that the ultimate responsibility for emergency response is at the local level. Our job is to provide the coordination and support necessary for the local level to be able to manage the response.
“We take the necessary steps to coordinate and prioritize required resources, at the state level or federal level. But again, the local authorities are in command and control at their level for their disaster and we are here to provide them the support they need within all facets of emergency management.”
Tafanelli said that the division’s role does not begin and end with a disaster, but extends to all phases of emergency management, including mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.
“Each county is required, by statute, to have a county emergency operation plan and we work with them on that plan,” said Tafanelli. “We also provide training and participate in exercises to test their response plans.”
Tafanelli added emergency management isn’t solely the province of local, state and federal officials.
“The public’s role is to be aware of their county emergency operation plan,” he noted. “As you see in a lot of our public service announcements, whether it’s Severe Weather Awareness Week or a number of other proclamations that we do… is to get statewide exposure to emergency management.
“A lot of that is done through the local level for citizens – making sure they have an emergency kit or that they have emergency plans for their family, to make sure they have the necessary supplies that they can sustain themselves in the event that they are involved in a disaster.
“The more that the Kansans can do along those lines, really makes the overall response to a disaster at the local level or state level much, much easier on the community and allows us to flow the resources in when we need them and really ensures that we mitigate the impacts of the disaster to the best extent we can.”