From the President
Early this year, one of our neighboring counties was battling a large grass fire. Because natural disasters don’t recognize political or geographic boundaries, we offered them assistance.
That kind of neighborly assistance is common in a state like Texas. Technically it’s called interjurisdictional cooperation, and it was made easier to offer due to Senate Bill 11 – passed by the Texas Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry in 2007.
SB11 streamlines the process of applying for state and federal reimbursement when we cross jurisdictional boundaries to help our fellow Texans. It created a Statewide Mutual Aid System that provides a process by which a city, county, school district, emergency services district, or other local political subdivision of the state can be reimbursed for using its own resources (personnel, equipment, supplies) to deal with an emergency situation in another local political subdivision.
Texas still has a lot of the frontier spirit. We have a natural, native desire to help our neighbors when they are in trouble or need our help. When Texas was first being settled, neighbors didn’t need a formal plan or agreement on what to do if someone’s barn burned down. Everybody just pitched in with labor and materials to help rebuild it. Down the line, you knew that if you needed help, your neighbors would be there for you as well.
It becomes a little more complicated when you move up to modern communities helping each other. After all, we have a responsibility to our taxpayers to see that they are reimbursed for equipment, supplies and personnel sent across city or county lines to help our neighbors in another jurisdiction. In 2005, the evacuations and sheltering for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, as well as the widespread wildfires in the Texas Panhandle, exposed a need for a mechanism that would allow our cities and counties to help their neighboring communities and yet be eligible for state and federal funding reimbursements. The Legislature responded with SB11.
The key to utilizing this mechanism provided by SB11 is the development of a set of emergency response plans. Initially, a county would develop an overall description of how each entity could assist others. Then the individual entities that make up the county, whether they are cities, school districts or emergency services districts, would develop emergency response plans that would take into consideration that assistance could cross jurisdictional boundaries.
We are working with counties on our borders to develop joint emergency response plans. Some individual cities – some of them in two different counties but closer to each other than they are to other cities in their own counties – are putting together their own interjurisdictional cooperation plans.
The regional councils of governments throughout the state have been helping to set up these mutual assistance plans. To see what we’re doing in North Central Texas, go to http://www.nctcog.org/ep/ and click on “Special Projects” and then “Multi-Agency Coordination.”
If you haven’t started developing your joint emergency response plans yet, get started as soon as possible so you and your neighbors will be ready when the time comes.
J.D. Johnson, Tarrant County Commissioner