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COUNTY EMERGENCY MGT. PREPARED

 

November 2, 2018

MIKE MESTAS IN HIS OFFICE WITH COMMUNICATIONS EQUIPMENT.

COUNTY EMERGENCY MGT. PREPARED

by David Edward Albright, TALON

In 2016, when Don Cooper retired, Mike Mestas became the Manager of San Juan County's Office of Emergency Management (OEM). "We had the remnants of Gold King Mine, the Animas Valley Water issue, the Harvest Gold Water issue, the Aztec School shooting...the Kirtland Irrigation Ditch emergency...so we've had many declarations in the last two years," Mestas said. 'Plan-Prepare-Prevent' is the motto of his office and the Manager showed these principles by presenting this reporter with a copy of an interview he had with a local college student which had many of the questions the reporter had for him.

A retired Farmington Fire Captain, Mestas served as an OEM coordinator for eight years prior to assuming the top position. Fully-tested by these recent events –- "from the frying pan to the fire", as he described it, Mestas has the ideal background and training to meet the diverse duties of the job. The Pagosa Springs native attributed his success to Cooper's mentoring, 20 years with the fire department, and four years in communication with the US Navy. Those experiences enabled him to handle the pressures of leadership and to make important decisions. He's enjoyed the challenge and opportunity to "take things to the next level." Mestas, with his expertise in handling emergencies, said he "hired to fill a weakness" when he hired Ali Rye as EM Coordinator for Grant Funding in 2017. She's a grant specialist with Emergency Management degree from the University of Arkansas. Competitive grants must be written for salaries, for equipment, and for special teams. Homeland Security (HS) awarded a grant to OEM for these expenses. "Up here in the Four Corners we have the power plants, oil and gas...the reservations, so we're one of the agencies that they fund...the need is pretty obvious," Mestas observed. "Plus the fact that we're the only agency that conducts those big annual drills --- those Homeland Security Drills...we do it every year but it's only required every three," he added. Funded by HS, the '2018 Emergency Exercise Drill' happened on September 12 at the Adult Detention Center. "The state loves us for it, in fact they use our drills to report to the feds that New Mexico is conducting drills...and they send new emergency managers up here to get trained and to observe," he stated.

OEM seeks a prescient approach to 'School Safety', thus, the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) is vital to its mission of insuring the safety of all school children in the county. "So San Juan County being the leader in the state --- we took it to the next level", he said about bringing together law enforcement, fire, rescue, and the Red Cross. "We bring in the experts," he said, noting that Donnie Kee, School Resource Officer for the Sheriff's Office and former SWAT Commander; and Ben McGaha, Farmington Police radio technician, were brought in as key members of the committee. Mestas said the current protocols for school safety drills and emergencies came from the state department of education. "They created a template but San Juan County added to it," he said.

On the fateful day of the Aztec High shooting, Mestas opened the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to coordinate all communications between responding agencies and the 9-1-1 dispatch center. OEM dealt with media, arranged the governor's visit that day, consulted with regional hospitals and with Red Cross --- to help with lunches and water for students and responders. His office also created the plan to move students to McGee Park where there was adequate space to accommodate the nearly 3000 relatives that came. "So for sixteen days we opened the EOC and the Department of Health, along with our Crisis Team."

OEM has modern communications, first-responder supplies and equipment--- plus a staff, with a combined 77 years of experience. A tour down County Row in Mestas's 2014 Emergency Manager SUV featured an impressive fleet of vehicles, trailers and equipment; including a powerful generator. A tower trailer provides backup communications for ham radio operations and fire and law enforcement. The cable trailer complements the generator --- always on standby during elections --- and the tower trailer. Both are tested annually.

Next on the tour was the County Public Works Yard. It featured an OEM semi-trailer with sheltering equipment and bedding for 500 --- provided by FEMA --- and put to use here to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina. Mestas knows of only two other places in the state that compare to OEM's level of quality: Bernalillo and Albuquerque.

The pressures of acquiring adequate funding is always a major challenge, but helping his community in emergencies is rewarding. He's honored to lead an operation that is so well-prepared. "I inherited a Cadillac system and my job is just to keep it performing!" by David Edward Albright, TALON

In 2016, when Don Cooper retired, Mike Mestas became the Manager of San Juan County's Office of Emergency Management (OEM). "We had the remnants of Gold King Mine, the Animas Valley Water issue, the Harvest Gold Water issue, the Aztec School shooting...the Kirtland Irrigation Ditch emergency...so we've had many declarations in the last two years," Mestas said. 'Plan-Prepare-Prevent' is the motto of his office and the Manager showed these principles by presenting this reporter with a copy of an interview he had with a local college student which had many of the questions the reporter had for him.

A retired Farmington Fire Captain, Mestas served as an OEM coordinator for eight years prior to assuming the top position. Fully-tested by these recent events –- "from the frying pan to the fire", as he described it, Mestas has the ideal background and training to meet the diverse duties of the job. The Pagosa Springs native attributed his success to Cooper's mentoring, 20 years with the fire department, and four years in communication with the US Navy. Those experiences enabled him to handle the pressures of leadership and to make important decisions. He's enjoyed the challenge and opportunity to "take things to the next level." Mestas, with his expertise in handling emergencies, said he "hired to fill a weakness" when he hired Ali Rye as EM Coordinator for Grant Funding in 2017. She's a grant specialist with Emergency Management degree from the University of Arkansas. Competitive grants must be written for salaries, for equipment, and for special teams. Homeland Security (HS) awarded a grant to OEM for these expenses. "Up here in the Four Corners we have the power plants, oil and gas...the reservations, so we're one of the agencies that they fund...the need is pretty obvious," Mestas observed. "Plus the fact that we're the only agency that conducts those big annual drills --- those Homeland Security Drills...we do it every year but it's only required every three," he added. Funded by HS, the '2018 Emergency Exercise Drill' happened on September 12 at the Adult Detention Center. "The state loves us for it, in fact they use our drills to report to the feds that New Mexico is conducting drills...and they send new emergency managers up here to get trained and to observe," he stated.

OEM seeks a prescient approach to 'School Safety', thus, the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) is vital to its mission of insuring the safety of all school children in the county. "So San Juan County being the leader in the state --- we took it to the next level", he said about bringing together law enforcement, fire, rescue, and the Red Cross. "We bring in the experts," he said, noting that Donnie Kee, School Resource Officer for the Sheriff's Office and former SWAT Commander; and Ben McGaha, Farmington Police radio technician, were brought in as key members of the committee. Mestas said the current protocols for school safety drills and emergencies came from the state department of education. "They created a template but San Juan County added to it," he said.

On the fateful day of the Aztec High shooting, Mestas opened the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to coordinate all communications between responding agencies and the 9-1-1 dispatch center. OEM dealt with media, arranged the governor's visit that day, consulted with regional hospitals and with Red Cross --- to help with lunches and water for students and responders. His office also created the plan to move students to McGee Park where there was adequate space to accommodate the nearly 3000 relatives that came. "So for sixteen days we opened the EOC and the Department of Health, along with our Crisis Team."

OEM has modern communications, first-responder supplies and equipment--- plus a staff, with a combined 77 years of experience. A tour down County Row in Mestas's 2014 Emergency Manager SUV featured an impressive fleet of vehicles, trailers and equipment; including a powerful generator. A tower trailer provides backup communications for ham radio operations and fire and law enforcement. The cable trailer complements the generator --- always on standby during elections --- and the tower trailer. Both are tested annually.

Next on the tour was the County Public Works Yard. It featured an OEM semi-trailer with sheltering equipment and bedding for 500 --- provided by FEMA --- and put to use here to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina. Mestas knows of only two other places in the state that compare to OEM's level of quality: Bernalillo and Albuquerque.

The pressures of acquiring adequate funding is always a major challenge, but helping his community in emergencies is rewarding. He's honored to lead an operation that is so well-prepared. "I inherited a Cadillac system and my job is just to keep it performing!"

 

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