Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Tuesday

February 26, 2013

New official brings experience

TRAVERSE CITY — Grand Traverse County’s newest emergency management supervisor never wants to mitigate a disaster in the Grand Traverse region.

But he’ll be ready if needed.

“You hope you don’t have to use your plans and practice, but you still have to be prepared,” Gregg Bird said.

The county hired Bird, 39, this month as the health department’s emergency management supervisor. County commissioners also appointed him as emergency management coordinator. The two positions often go hand-in-hand, County Human Resources Director Jen Semen said.

Bird most recently worked as a part-time Grand Traverse Metro firefighter, but he has an extensive background in emergency management and disaster response rooted in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Bird, a Pennsylvania native, was a firefighter working in a corrections facility in Kent County, Md., when the deadly hurricane struck in 2005.

Bird traveled to Jackson, Miss., with a group of emergency workers, where he was assigned to the state’s short-staffed Emergency Operations Center. Bird worked under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact operations chief.

Bird spent five weeks in Jackson coordinating response and relief efforts.

“If Mississippi needed 1,000 police officers, we found police officers from around the country and brought them in,” Bird said.

Bird’s responsibilities grew during his five-week stay. He faced his greatest challenge less than a month after Katrina as a second storm, Hurricane Rita, formed in the Gulf of Mexico.

Roughly 100,000 aid workers were in Mississippi at the time, including about 70,000 members of the National Guard. The EOC lacked a system for tracking the multitude of aid workers, to make matters worse.

Bird was assigned to figure out how to track and care of the sizable population, and he was given about 12 hours to complete the job.

“We had to prepare a Plan B,” Bird said. “There are 100,000 people already in a disaster zone. What do you do with them? How do house them? How do you treat their injuries?”

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