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Fast Five: EGLE integrated in state's emergency efforts to manage COVID-19 pandemic

Jay Eickholt, EGLE's emergency management coordinator

As part of National Preparedness Month (NPM), this Fast Five edition of MI Environment looks at the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy's emergency management efforts with Jay Eickholt, the department's emergency management coordinator (EMC).

The year 2020 has put a spotlight on the importance of the State's emergency management activities. How long have you been involved with the COVID-19 response?

The State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC), where state, local and federal agencies coordinate the response to a disaster, emergency or terrorist event, has been active for over six months coordinating COVID-19 efforts.

During the initial weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic response, the SEOC was active from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. We monitored what was coming in from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the Governor's Office, and other sources to make sure we were prepared for the next day.

The early days of the EGLE COVID-19 response involved coordination of activities with the SEOC, making sure we were following established protocols in the field, for meetings, and email updates.

Out of this came a dialogue with EGLE staff to help answer the hundreds of emails sent by staff to the Director Liesl Clark and the EGLE EMC.

What was involved in the shift to teleworking by EGLE staff?

EGLE EMC completed an emergency update of the department's Continuity of Operations plan to address COVID-19 concerns and submitted it to the SEOC, as required to incorporate it in the state's overall response strategy. That included the informal plan for teleworking. EGLE EMC was tasked with compiling a list of all EGLE staff and their ability to work remotely (laptop, cell phone) and provide that to the SEOC in less than a week.

Director Clark and I attended the SEOC briefing on March 11, which focused on how to start the process of teleworking. EGLE was part of the workforce and operations group.

Daily COVID-19 briefings with the director, deputy director, and executive staff with EMC started March 13 and ran through May 18. Discussions covered executive orders that were issued and how they would impact our operation and direction, response to staff emails and concerns, establishment of the protocol for handling issues as they arose, and ensuring all EGLE staff have tools they need to work from home and be safe.

Was EGLE involved in assisting with equipment needs?

EGLE in mid-March began picking up shipments of personal protection equipment (PPE) and supplies from the Michigan Department of Management and Budget and the SEOC centralized procurement process. Eventually, a warehouse in Lansing was secured to hold roughly 10 million individual pieces of PPE and equipment for health care workers, first responders, and state staff. In early April, EGLE EMC was able to coordinate the donation of 1,300 TYVEK cover-all suits from EGLE's Materials Management, Air Quality and Remediation and Redevelopment divisions to be used by the Michigan National Guard for staffing the alternative care sites in Detroit and Novi.

I continue to pick up PPE from sources around the Lansing area and bring them to Constitution Hall to be counted, stored and ready for shipment when requested.

Reconnection of municipal drinking water systems got a lot of attention as the pandemic spread. How was EGLE involved in that?

EGLE EMC was tasked with ensuring that municipal drinking water systems that had disconnected homes due to non-payment work toward restoring water services to those residences as part of Executive Order 2020-28.

What is your day-to-day involvement with SEOC activities now?

Since May, EGLE has remained engaged with the SEOC (which is completely virtual outside a handful of key staff) and provides recommendations and review of public information and handles concerns regarding disposal of COVID-19 contaminated PPE, disinfection procedures, public water supply status, and ensuring all EGLE staff have the tools to keep residents safe from the other issues that are out there.

COVID-19 is now a constant for emergency managers across the state. During this time other emergency situations have not gone away or stopped. EGLE is still instrumental in the response and state coordination for high water issues on the Great Lakes shoreline and inland lakes. Dam failures in Gladwin and Midland counties resulting in historic flooding thrust local and state response groups into completing evacuations, sheltering, and field work during a pandemic. Emerging issues continue to keep EGLE and other state agencies on the edge of our socially-distanced seats. The state has seen a comeback of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), flu season is around the corner, and severe weather is always a threat.

The theme for National Preparedness Month this year is "Disasters Don't Wait. Make Your Plan Today." Check out the MIReady website for tips on how to be prepared.

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