COVID-19 has changed the South Dakota Office of Emergency Management on multiple levels — from our personal behaviors to the logistics of our working operations. The industry knowledge and practical skills that my EKU professors brought into the classroom have directly impacted the work I am doing in South Dakota to keep my community safe, informed, and prepared as we all navigate these uncertain times together.
While navigating this unchartered territory, I am thankful for the education the EKU homeland security program provided. Collaboration and networking were touted as critical skills throughout my time in the homeland security program. In the midst of this pandemic, when we are stronger together, I find myself calling upon these skills now more than ever before.
As an emergency management professional, I am used to preparing for and responding to natural disasters, which tend to be contained to a relatively small geographical area. Even during a winter storm that affects the entire state, once the snow has stopped falling and the sun comes out, we are able to begin cleanup and return to normal living. As we have all learned, pandemics are an entirely different “beast”.
My normal day-to-day job as the logistics and administration team leader on the South Dakota Emergency Management team involves leading six staff within my branch, and overseeing activities for the statewide credentialing system, the Health Alert Network notification system, WebEOC (web-based emergency operations center software), Geographic Information Systems (GIS), logistics support, floodplain management, and administrative support. I also manage the Emergency Management Performance Grant, which funds most of our office’s staff and activities, and I lead the on-call duty officer program.
Autumn Stout graduated from Eastern Kentucky University in 2014 with a bachelor’s of science degree in homeland security. During her time at EKU, she worked for the Madison County, KY Emergency Management Agency/Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program in Richmond for four years. Since graduating from EKU, she earned her master’s of public administration (MPA) with a concentration in emergency management degree from Jacksonville State University and is now a member of the adjunct faculty for EKU Online’s homeland security program.
In addition to continuing to handle these day-to-day duties, during an emergency response we also become responsible for providing situational awareness, resource coordination, and staffing for our State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC). The SEOC is a facility where our partners from other state agencies, quasi-governmental, and nongovernmental agencies work to gather information, maintain a common operating picture, and provide resource coordination for operations on the ground.
Since mid-March, most state government employees have been working from home. Response to the pandemic still requires a physical presence in the SEOC, so our staff rotates shifts there in support of South Dakota’s Department of Health. We try to maintain physical distancing as much as possible at our workstations and during meetings at the SEOC. High traffic areas are sanitized multiple times throughout the day. Before entering the SEOC facility, we have our body temperatures checked. Anyone presenting as ill is immediately sent home.
Specific to the COVID-19 response, the Office of Emergency Management’s role is to coordinate resource requests from local jurisdictions, locate additional storage facilities for response supplies such as cots and personal protective equipment, and assist with medical surge planning to ensure our healthcare system is robust enough to handle a potential surge in COVID-positive patients. Some states have seen crippled healthcare systems, extreme shortages of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers and first responders, and hundreds or thousands of deaths. Regardless of the severity of impacts, there have been drastic changes to the way of life for many South Dakotans, which is evidenced by local restaurants opening for takeout only, as well as closed shopping centers, movie theaters, gyms and other public facilities. There’s also greatly decreased highway traffic and a high number of new unemployment claims.
My colleagues in the Office of Emergency Management, Department of Health, and other state and local agencies have been phenomenal to work with as we navigate COVID-19 in our state, national, and global history. We know this road to recovery will be long, and it is far from over. Wash your hands, check in with family and friends through the multitude of non-physical communication options we have available to us, and take some time to care for yourself! When this threat has passed, our team will continue to plan for and respond to all types of disasters using the lessons learned during this unusual time.
By: Autumn Stout, logistics and administration team leader for the South Dakota Office of Emergency Management
Interested in learning more about how you can pursue a homeland security degree?
Earn your online bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited university that has been an online education leader for more than 15 years. EKU’s online homeland security program prepares graduates to protect critical infrastructure, respond to natural and man-made disasters, implement the latest security technology, and provide for our nation’s intelligence and counterterrorism needs.
To learn more about our online homeland security degrees and certificates complete the learn more form or check out our Homeland Security Program.