The Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) is part of the Military Department. The state's Adjutant General, Major General Judd Lyons, serves as the director of the agency as well as the commanding officer of the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard. The three units comprise the Military Department.
The agency is located in a bunker built in the 1960s during the height of the Cold War. It was intended to serve as Nebraska's government headquarters if nuclear confrontation was likely. The agency headquarters now serves as the nerve center for emergency management. NEMA is a small agency with less than 40 full-time and part-time employees. Day-to-day operations are managed by Al Berndt, assistant director.
Emergency management in the United States has been divided into four phases: preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation. Even with the emphasis on terrorism since the 9/11 attacks, emergency management's role has not changed a great deal. Nebraska must still deal with a host of hazards, both natural and man-made.
During the preparedness phase, NEMA monitors the situation across the state. This is accomplished by using a duty officer system; state, National Weather Service and North American Warning and Alert System (NAWAS); local emergency management organizations, police and fire departments across the state and the general public.
A member of NEMA staff serves as the duty officer on a rotational basis taking calls for a host of incidents in addition to severe weather such as tornadoes, floods and blizzards. A terrorist attack would be handled in the same manner as a tornado strike or flood.
During the preparedness phase, the agency coordinates the state Radiological Emergency Preparedness Program (REP), which develops emergency plans for the two nuclear power plants – Cooper and Ft. Calhoun Nuclear Stations.
The agency also monitors low-level and high-level radiological material shipments, which traverse the state by highway and railway. Any abnormality can trigger a call to the duty officer and alert the rest of Nebraska government.
NEMA conducts an extensive training program for emergency managers and first responders, such as police, fire and emergency medical personnel. The training classes cover a wide range of topics, including counter terrorism, hazardous materials, radiological emergency, public information and incident management. Classes, schedules and other information are listed on NEMA's training page.
An important part of preparedness is the development of state and local emergency operations plans, which NEMA coordinates. The agency has also developed an emergency operations exercise program that assists local jurisdictions in exercising their emergency plans.
Each year, once in the spring and again in the fall, the agency conducts public awareness campaigns. The severe weather awareness campaign tests the state's emergency systems in advance of the spring thunderstorm season and the winter weather awareness campaign does the same before winter. Both are sponsored by NEMA and the National Weather Service.
In the event of an emergency anywhere in the state, the local jurisdictions are responsible for first response to the emergency. If local resources are inadequate to deal with the situation, the local political leader declares an emergency and requests state assistance.
Normally, the agency would be aware of the developing situation and would have alerted the governor's office and other state agencies. NEMA could have also activated the state's Emergency Operations Center (EOC) located in the agency headquarters, situated in the underground bunker. The EOC becomes the center for any state response. Depending upon the nature of the emergency, state teams can be dispatched to the disaster area.
If deemed necessary the Federal Emergency Management Agency' s (FEMA) Region VII office, which is located in Kansas City, can be alerted. They, in turn, can notify FEMA National in Washington, D.C.
Upon the advice of the agency director, the governor can proclaim a state emergency and sign a declaration. This declaration formalizes the state response and places all the state's resources at the disposal of the adjutant general. This can involve the National Guard, State Patrol, Department of Roads, Game and Parks Commission, Department on Aging, Health and Human Resources or any other agency that can be of assistance.
The formal declaration process also allows the adjutant general to use money in the governor's Emergency Fund to pay for the disaster costs. This fund, which was created and is maintained by the Legislature, usually is kept at around $1 million.
If the governor determines state resources are not sufficient to deal with the emergency, a federal disaster declaration can be requested. The issuance of a Presidential Disaster Declaration means all the resources of the federal government can be brought to bear on the emergency.
Under a Presidential Disaster Declaration, NEMA and FEMA coordinate state and federal activities in a Joint Field Office. The two disburse recovery funds for two types of federal disasters. A Presidential Disaster Declaration can be for public assistance, individual assistance or both.
Public assistance is used to help local and state governments recover their disaster expenses. Public assistance is used to pay for roads, bridges, public buildings and other facilities damaged in the disaster and to pay for costs such as the National Guard, police, fire and public works employee salaries and other costs. Normally, the Federal Government pays 75 percent of all eligible public costs. Traditionally, the state and local governments equally split the remaining 25 percent.
Individual assistance is provided to the survivors of the disaster. Individual assistance can come in the form of low interest loans both to families and businesses, or individual family grants to pay for losses to families or businesses that are not eligible for loans.
Following a federally-declared disaster, the state receives funding assistance for hazard mitigation. This can amount to substantial sums of money, because 15 percent of the total federal share of the disaster is earmarked for mitigation. Hazard mitigation is designed to lessen or mitigate the impacts of future disasters.
For example, hazard mitigation for flooding might mean the buyout of flood-prone structures in the disaster area, or it might involve raising structures above the 100-year flood level. In the case of tornadoes, mitigation might involve better warning systems or structural improvements. The state and federal governments must agree to whatever mitigation projects that are designed.
Nebraska’s Emergency Management System
Under state law, all local jurisdictions are responsible for initial response to a disaster. State law also mandates that each local government shall participate in a full-time emergency management program. Some have opted to participate in regional organizations.
These local emergency management jurisdictions are responsible to the city, county or both. The state agency has no supervisory role over local jurisdictions.