Public Works Mutual Aid: Who needs it and why

Bruce Slagoski, Terrace Operations Supervisor, City of Beloit, Wisconsin, and member, Emergency Management Committee, APWA Wisconsin Chapter; Janice Pinnow, Solid Waste Supervisor, City of Beloit, Wisconsin, and member, Solid Waste Committee, APWA Wisconsin Chapter

Mutual aid allows communities to support each other during emergencies and disasters to protect and restore life and property when an event is beyond the capabilities of the affected community. Public works is responsible for a multitude of operations, including safe water, sewer, waste disposal and debris management, mass transit, snow removal, signage, engineering and fleet. We have the responsibility to recover in the most expedient way. This is best accomplished by entering into Mutual Aid Agreements for cooperation during an emergency situation.

It is important that each municipality entering into an agreement realize the importance of providing assistance to one another during a disaster or emergency. You may be requested to supply employees, equipment, technical assistance and/or materials. Public Works Mutual Aid Agreements allow an entity to assist another without the liabilities of insurance, workers compensation, equipment insurance, employee liability, union issues, and compensation becoming cumbersome issues and causing great delays in response time. Mutual aid does not require a community to respond to the crisis of another. A community may in good faith withhold assistance while providing for its own community.

Golf course superintendent Mark Young (left) of the Beloit Public Works Department in the Incident Command Vehicle with Capt. Tom Dunkin of the Beloit Police Department

For years fire and police departments have had agreements with surrounding communities for assistance. Fire departments have had Mutual Aid Agreements with neighboring communities and now have changed to the MABAS (Mutual Aid Box Alarm System). Police departments have also had Mutual Aid Agreements for a number of years as well. Today we see public works sectors on board with mutual aid.

As you may know, HSPD-8 (Homeland Security Presidential Directive 8) states that public works employees are recognized as first responders. In order for any disaster area to receive mitigation funds from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) we must meet certain criteria. We must have Mutual Aid Agreements in place and be NIMS (National Incident Management System) compliant.

The City of Beloit has entered into Mutual Aid Agreements with nine communities. The communities range from small townships to large cities. Our agreements also cross the state line into Illinois. If the need arises to respond to an incident across the state line the issue can be addressed with an EMAC (Emergency Management Assistance Compact) which was covered in the January 2007 issue of the APWA Reporter. In Beloit we have both an Intrastate and Interstate agreement with our neighboring communities.

It is our recommendation that everyone establish Mutual Aid Agreements with their neighbors. Not only is it a requirement but when you need assistance or if you are responding to an event, everyone knows whom to call and what to expect. A very large part of this agreement is the list of resources. Mutual Aid Agreements are not an easy task but a very worthwhile one. It took over a year to get our Mutual Aid Agreement enacted by the time it went through all the community leaders and their attorneys. During a disaster is not the time to see if you have the necessary resources.

The APWA Wisconsin Chapter's Emergency Management Committee is currently working on a statewide Mutual Aid Agreement. We anticipate that during 2008 the agreement will be complete. The process takes time and requires legislative involvement. In the long run, it will be worthwhile.

Bruce Slagoski can be reached at (608) 364-2929 or slagoski@ci.beloit.wi.us; Janice Pinnow can be reached at (608) 364-2929 or pinnowj@ci.beloit.wi.us.

Editor's Note: The City of Beloit's Mutual Aid Agreement, as well as other sample agreements, can be viewed on the APWA Resource Center at www.apwa.net/ResourceCenter in the Emergency Management section. If you would like to provide a sample copy of or link to your agency/state's agreement, please forward the information to Teresa Hon at APWA headquarters (thon@apwa.net).