When a disaster or emergency strikes, members of the Kansas National Guard stand ready to help when and where they’re needed.
“As Guardsmen, we live and work in our communities in both our civilian and military jobs,” Maj. Gen. David Weishaar, the adjutant general of Kansas and director of the Kansas Division of Emergency Management said. “If you see uniformed members of the military in your community, they are simply there to assist the local authorities with the current COVID-19 response. Our Kansas Guardsmen and women are eager to support their communities wherever they are needed, whether it is assisting with food distribution, removal of debris after a tornado, battling wildland fires or rescuing people from floods. We are here to help our neighbors in their time of need.”
“It’s wonderful to have them here,” Valerie Remy, volunteer engagement supervisor for Topeka Harvesters, said about Kansas Guard members working in their warehouse. “They know what they’re doing. I just gave them the (order) sheet and they ran with it.”
Remy said the Topeka Harvesters organization, 215 SE Quincy St., found itself short-handed due to the restrictions placed on the number of people who could work at any one time. The group contacted the Kansas Division of Emergency Management, who asked the Kansas National Guard to assist the Harvesters warehouse to move pallets of food, organize them and help pack boxes to be distributed to those in need. Remy said having the soldiers and airmen help is “a blessing.”
Kansas National Guard members are also assisting Harvesters in Kansas City at 3801 Topping Road, Kansas City, Missouri.
Whenever there is a disaster or large-scale emergency and local communities find themselves overwhelmed, the Kansas Division of Emergency Management and the Kansas National Guard are there to help. Whether it is assisting with the removal of debris from roads after a tornado, coordinating assistance in battling wildland fires or sandbagging a levy to hold back floods.
With the COVID-19 emergency, their support may not seem as intense, but it is just as vital. The Kansas Division of Emergency Management placed the State Emergency Operations Center in Topeka on full activation March 12. Emergency support function partners and private emergency response organizations are in the SEOC daily to coordinate the numerous response activities currently taking place throughout the state.
Issues range from locating, purchasing and distributing personal protective equipment to issues concerning essential versus nonessential businesses as well as finding noncongregate shelter options that still maintain social distancing guidelines. And all the while, since this is tornado season, KDEM must keep an eye on the weather and be ready to render assistance to a town or county in the event of a tornado or flood.
“I think a lot people probably do not realize how many interconnected parts there are in this overall mission to protect the health and safety of Kansans,” Governor Laura Kelly said. “There are few, if any, state agencies that do not have some role in seeing that the people we serve are getting the help they need. It’s a huge job and I am extremely proud of every one of the hundreds of people across the state who work hard each day to get that job done.”
One of the key assets KDEM calls on is the Kansas National Guard. Currently there are 500 Guardsmen who have been placed on orders to provide mission support throughout the state. One such mission involves logistics support to food banks.
“Because of the many business closures due to COVID-19, there are many Kansans in need of food assistance at this time,” Jeff Welshans, State Emergency Operations Center manager, said. “The Kansas Division of Emergency Management is working with several local food banks to ensure they are able to serve anyone in need during this emergency.”
To help food banks meet the increased demand, Kansas Division of Emergency Management is reaching out to find new meal sources. KDEM has arranged the purchase and transport of 18,000 prepared food packets for distribution to local food banks statewide.
Ten pallets of food were picked up in McPherson on April 20 by personnel from the Kansas Department of Transportation. The pallets were delivered to Wichita to be broken down and repacked for distribution to food banks. Each prepackaged single meal contains six servings. The packages will be assembled into boxes that each contain seven meals, enough to serve a family for a week.
KDEM has purchased ingredients and supplies for 1 million meals, which will be picked up at a later time and delivered to Kansas City, Kansas, where they will be packaged and distributed to food banks across Kansas.
KDEM is working with Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Kansas Department for Children and Families and local public health departments to set up noncongregate housing in Finney, Ford, Lyon and Seward counties. These facilities will be managed by DCF and are available for individuals to use to either quarantine individuals who may have been exposed, or to isolate individuals with laboratory-confirmed positive or are presumptive positive cases.
The Kansas National Guard is also participating in a variety of other support missions drawing on the many skill sets of its soldiers and airmen:
- Trained Kansas National Guard medical professionals are assisting staff at Lansing Correctional Facility by supplementing medical support.
- Local public health officials are coordinating with KDHE to set up mobile testing sites. The Guardsmen will be assisting with expanded testing in their community.
- Kansas Guardsmen are heavily involved in logistics operations for the receiving and distribution of personal protective equipment vitally needed in medical facilities and by first responders across the state.