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Butler County-based response team could soon be one of a select few helping FEMA

Butler County Incident Management Team
Teams from across the US, Australia and Canada watch as the BCIMT and FEMA’s Incident Support Team function as a joint Incident Management Team for this large scale exercise in 2019.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is in Butler County this week evaluating an Ohio incident response team. The group could soon be one of around a handful of agencies nationwide named a federal Supplemental Response Team.

"We're a collection of resources that can be deployed during a natural or man-made emergency to help within the state of Ohio and then outside of the state," explains Steve Kelly, public information officer for the Butler County Incident Management Team (BCIMT) and Miami Township Fire & EMS chief.

The State of Ohio-Butler County Incident Management Team is already a credentialed Type III team, meaning it can be deployed if another state asks for help dealing with things like hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters. Now it's undergoing qualification exercises this week to be able to work directly for and with FEMA.

"We've never had this level of partnership with FEMA before," Kelly says. "It's the first time we could actually work under the FEMA umbrella, under their auspices. Generally, we're required to go out if a state requests resources. Now, if the federal government requests Type III incident management teams or other teams to come in and help them, we could go with them."

The State of Ohio-Butler County Incident Management Team was selected for the SRT pilot program in 2019. At the time it was one of just three in the country. A FEMA spokesperson confirms there are currently six such teams nationwide.

Though the team is largely comprised of members from Southwest Ohio, the roster of about 40 includes firefighters, EMTs, law enforcement, communications professionals and GIS (geographical information systems) experts from across the state.

Kelly explains Ohio doesn't have a statewide incident management team — though it used to — so the BCIMT fills that function. A deployment could be as small as six to eight people or as many as 20, depending on the type of incident and the need.

"We know they're trying to get as many teams through this as possible for hurricane season when it hits this year, because every year just seems to be a little bit worse," Kelly says.

The risk of wildfires is also growing and straining response efforts.

"More than 30 million homes in the lower 48 states — some 20% of houses — have a measurable risk of being hit with a wildfire. Some 1.5 million properties have a greater than 26% chance of burning over the next 30 years," NPR reported this week, citing a risk-assessment released by the non-profit First Street Foundation.

Once qualified, the team's expenses will be paid for by FEMA, not local taxpayers, when it is tasked as part of a federal response.

Updated: May 20, 2022 at 12:53 PM EDT
This story was updated to note the number of SRTs nationwide.