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Extension Service network responds after disasters
MISSISSIPPI STATE – Long before and long after tornadoes are on the ground, Mississippi State University Extension Service personnel are in position to lend a helping hand in every community impacted by a disaster.
Chickasaw County Extension director Scott Cagle is helping communities cope in the aftermath of two tornadoes: one that passed through around 3 a.m. on April 27 and the second, stronger tornado that followed a different path about 12 hours later.
“We have been surveying the damage and preparing reports for the local emergency management office. We have 70 homes totally destroyed and another 230 homes damaged,” he said.
The Chickasaw Extension staff has performed clerical work at the Chickasaw County Emergency Management office as well as other jobs. They are conducting agricultural surveys, reporting damage to barns, fences and livestock. Extension agents’ knowledge of the community has helped.
“If MEMA does not know how to contact a farmer, we usually know how to contact them,” Cagle said.
Some of their efforts are not as Extension workers, but as concerned community members.
“I have hauled two loads of supplies from a Tupelo church to the local distribution center. Another agent has used his chainsaw to help clear debris,” Cagle said.
Monroe County Extension Director B.J. McClenton said Incident Command System training helped the staff understand how the chain of command works in a disaster. After two tornadoes ripped through his county, the trained agents understood the functions staging areas, checkpoints and contacts and were able to direct resources and people to the appropriate places.
“It can be chaotic in a situation like this when the damage is so devastating and widespread, but knowing the right contacts helps,” McClenton said.
The Monroe County Extension staff has assisted in the food distribution warehouse and with other needs as they have come up. Two staff members joined other MSU responders to repair livestock fences damaged during the storms.
Gary Jackson, director for the MSU Extension Service, said the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and other responders frequently turn to county Extension offices to assist in response and with damage assessments.
“County Extension agents know their communities and are quick to guide residents to the resources they need after a disaster,” Jackson said. “Local agents are providing valuable assistance to agencies from outside the area as they respond to a disaster.”
The April tornados were the first major disasters to impact Mississippi since Jackson assumed his duties as head of the statewide educational outreach system in January. He has witnessed exhausted agents responding to the needs of their communities.
“We are fortunate that so many of our agents have received ICS training offered through Extension’s Center for Governmental Training and Technology,” he said. “That training was instrumental in our ability to respond effectively.”
Jackson said all Extension employees will continue to assess damage and needs in their communities as the recovery takes place, as requested by MEMA. They have been working with local emergency management offices, MEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency and city and county governments. Extension personnel are providing information on federal and state assistance to Mississippians.
For more information on disaster programs, contact the local emergency management office.