Director of emergency and risk management Barton County
Husband Alan; one daughter
How have things changed?
When I started we had one emergency operations plan. Now, it’s grown into many other plans that cover multiple topics.
What is best part of your job?
I enjoy getting the information out there to get the public prepared for the weather. It’s telling people to be prepared and keep them safe.
Amy Miller evolved into her job as director of emergency and risk management for Barton County. When you hear Miller’s gentle voice, you know everything is going to be all right.
She has worked as a county employee for 31 years since she started work with the Barton County health department. She transferred to the landfill and started work at the courthouse in emergency preparedness.
“It was a job opportunity that opened. I thought I’d go do it for a while,” she said. “Barton County does not have a full-time person in emergency management. It’s a 50-50 split between emergency management and risk management, which covers safety, work compensation and insurance.”
Since the mid 1990s, National Weather Service employees in Wichita have included county officials more directly in exchanging severe weather information. At one time, Barton County was part of the Concordia NWS coverage area.
“We’re much more in contact directly with the National Weather Service in Wichita,” Miller said. “The communication is vastly improved. Now, we’re able to reach the weather service directly. There is texting, the Internet and the 800 radio system. In the past, there wasn’t nearly as much communication between the locals and the National Weather Service.”
The public benefits because severe weather warning are more readily passed to the public on radio, television and through phone applications.
When severe weather is forecast, the NWS typically conducts a teleconference call advising local emergency managers the timing and potential threat prior to the time when watches are issued.
“We like to get the word out of a potential threat,” Miller said. “Timelines are important because of school-dismissal time. Schools are advised is something may happen between 3 and 4 p.m.”
Miller said severe weather is a year-round topic of interest. She always pays attention to potential severe weather, particularly from Pawnee County to the west.
“People pay the most attention to tornado watches and warnings,” Miller said. “You always hope people pay attention to the warnings. But flooding and winter storms are unique weather events that also involve risk. You can go from horrendous rain or to a severe ice storm in a matter of hours.”
Miller said Barton County’s storm spotters are sheriff’s deputies and local law enforcement employees. Many counties employ volunteer firefighters as storm spotters.
“There is a good system set up that works well in Barton County,” Miller said. “Our warning system is very good for Barton County.”
Miller said ice storms create widespread havoc because of hazardous driving conditions, as well as the potential loss of power to a wide area.
“You always hope you don’t lose power. There have been people who have forced to stay at hotels for a week to 10 days,” Miller said. “You just have to wait your turn when the power is out.”
If potential exists for road closing signs or road cleanup, Miller send advisories to county department heads, who are responsible for preparing their staff.
“A lot of emergency management is after the fact. You want to pick up the pieces and get everything back to normal,” she said. “Sometimes, employees will check the roads and see what things look like. We know what potential low-water spots are out there.”
Any weather event that occurs during nightfall creates a higher risk.
“Severe weather at night-time is especially dangerous,” she said. “The Hoisington tornado and the Joplin, Missouri tornado were night-time events. It’s hard to verify what’s happening at night. You see the storm on radar, but you can’t always know exactly what’s going on at ground level.”
The goal of the emergency management is to reduce the loss of life; to minimize property loss and damage to the environment; and to protect Barton County from all threats and hazards. The local emergency management program enhances the protection of the county, its communities and its citizens through planning, training and coordination of resources.
Barton County’s emergency plan allows the county to more effectively respond to and recover faster from the effects of a major emergency or disaster.
Miller serves as the county’s liaison with state and federal agencies responsible for emergency management. She is the direct communication link to the Kansas Division of Emergency Management.
In addition to emergency management functions, Miller serves as the risk manager administering property, vehicle, liability and workers compensation insurance, and safety issues.
Emergency managers work with emergency services fire, EMS, law enforcement, public works, public health, hospitals and medical facilities, schools, utilities, private sector businesses and the Salvation Army and American Red Cross to create all-hazards plans.