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NEWS | Aug. 8, 2023

Kentucky Guard completes 120-county initiative

By 1st Sgt. Scott Raymond, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Soldiers and community leaders met in Oldham County July 27, for the final installment of a statewide initiative gauging interoperability of state resources to respond to emergencies.

Only three states in the Nation have more counties than Kentucky. Making it to each of the 120 in the commonwealth should be considered a tall feat; but that did not stop the Kentucky National Guard’s County Outreach team.

According to 1st Sgt. Jason Rhodes, County Outreach non-commissioned officer in charge, the initiative will bring a common understanding of emergency planning and disaster preparation across a diverse landscape of counties.

“The goal of the outreach was two-fold; first, learning as much as we could about each county and second, meeting face to face with the decision makers in those counties,” said Rhodes. “The information gathered in these meetings has given us a better idea of the challenges counties may face on their worst day, and will allow us to make better use of National Guard resources, improve our response time and ultimately better serve the citizens of the commonwealth.”

The Outreach officially began in 2022 with Rhodes and original team members, Sgt. 1st Class Wes Rogers and Capt. Dan Bailey. They met with Montgomery County officials, in response to the devastating floods that affected so many in Eastern Kentucky. Just one year later, the county map in the Joint Operations Center on Boone National Guard Center in Frankfort, Kentucky is all shaded in, marking completion of 120 visits.

The idea for the project first surfaced after the tornadoes that impacted Western Kentucky in December 2021. Following that mission, questions were asked of what an emergency response looked like in other parts of the state? How would certain counties fare with available assets in an emergency? How would the Guard be able to best assist? What is the best collaborative effort to help citizens during a crisis?

These were some questions that were discussed in each county to hopefully take a step forward in emergency operations and improve on plans before the next tornado, wildfire or ice storm hits.

Rhodes said the 120 meetings were welcomed and very productive, but also day lighted potential gaps in collaborative processes. They also discovered previously unknown details that would impact emergency response; to include the number of counties with volunteer fire departments and locations of backup emergency operation centers or supply distribution points.

From Paducah to Pikeville, the initiative has brought judge executives, mayors, sheriffs, and other county leaders together to discuss the readiness of counties to collectively face emergency situations in their areas.

“I was impressed with the insight provided in this meeting in order to assist us when we need it and how to get the best effort out of the right people at the right time,” said Oldham County Judge Executive David Voegele. “I feel very good for Oldham County knowing the Guard is behind us and is able to be called on to respond with such a wide variety of services.”

The lessons learned from the meetings are invaluable not only on the local level, but to the National Guard’s domestic mission and represent a very personal sentiment to Guardsmen.

“As Citizen-Soldiers, these locations are our homes, where our friends and families live and where we work. We are directly impacted by storms and disasters,” said Rhodes. “We recognize how the diversity of our state, county by county, make up the fabric of Kentucky, and we are ensuring we can do our best to be always ready and always there for the commonwealth.”

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