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Hartselle Enquirer
Jonathan Warner was hired as the Morgan County Emergency Management Agency in August. “He didn’t just come in to join the staff, he came in to make changes,” said Morgan County Commission Chairman Ray Long.  

New EMA director worries and plans for a living

By Jean Cole  

For the Enquirer  

Jonathan Warner worries about things before they happen. He even worries about things that will probably never happen. It’s all part of his job. 

Warner, 46, of Hartselle, is director of the Morgan County Emergency Management Agency, a job he’s held since August. Before that, Warner had been the part-time Morgan County safety coordinator for 3½ years as well as a full-time Hartselle firefighter for the past 14½ years. 

Although Warner has been EMA director for less than a year, he and his office are already making beneficial changes, officials said. Among them are a renovated warehouse where EMA equipment is stored, new vehicles and equipment for emergency response, and additional training. 

“He didn’t just come in to join the staff, he came in to make changes,” said Morgan County Commission Chairman Ray Long. “He’s done a super job. He’s come in and shown a lot of leadership. He’s been a breath of fresh air. He’s brought all the team on board; everyone’s working in one direction.” 

One notable improvement was renovating an existing county warehouse that stood largely unused for more than a decade and using it for EMA storage, Long said. With up to $50,000 from the county’s capital improvement fund, Warner renovated the old county warehouse, fixed its electrical system and corralled all the EMA equipment into it. Now, everyone who needs to use the equipment knows where to find it, Long said. The 50-by-125-foot metal building with concrete floor is at 2531 Alabama 20 W. in Decatur, near 3M Co. 

“The building had just been sitting there empty for nearly 14 years and nobody was utilizing it,” Long said. “Jonathan came in wanting to put the thing together and so he’s got that going. We’re opening it up so we can store all of our equipment in one place. Right now, it’s scattered out all over the county. We actually have some things stored in a few churches in Decatur.” 

Renovations included stripping the old wiring, and rewiring and installing a garage door to allow loading and unloading. 

“We just renovated the whole building,” Long said, adding, “The outside looked pretty good but the inside was really rough.” 

Warner said part of the reason the warehouse space was needed was to get some enclosed trailers out of the weather. There are also EMA items stored in District 3. He said the county also had some bus-conversion kits for use in a pandemic that they decided to store in the warehouse. 

In addition to securing storage, Warner has added new vehicles to the EMA fleet, which was an improvement, Long said. 

“We had vehicles there that when something came up, they had to go jump them off,” Long said. “They were old, and he came in and asked to purchase new vehicles, and we’ve done that and got everything up to speed. We are a true EMA department right now. We’re ready to respond to anything we need to.” 

Decontamination tent 

Decatur Fire Chief Tracy Thornton credits Warner and his office with recently obtaining a decontamination tent that can be used in case of a hazardous materials spill. The tents have chambers used to decontaminate firefighters or hazmat workers. 

“In hazmat, we have to undergo decontamination — wash off hazardous materials,” the fire chief said. “This is a big tent with different chambers in it and a water hookup that you can use it to decontaminate.” 

Thornton said Warner thought of and obtained the equipment “on his own” because he thought it was something both EMA and firefighters could use. 

“We have decontamination equipment for the Fire Department, but this will be another good tool at our disposal,” Thornton said. 

“This equipment is portable and ready to deploy at any time,” Warner said of the tent. “We have had a joint training with Decatur Fire & Rescue at their training facility, where we showcased this equipment and invited outside agencies to join.” 

Among the agencies in attendance were Falkville Fire & Rescue, Danville Fire & Rescue, Alabama Department of Public Health, Limestone County EMA, and Decatur Fire & Rescue. 

“This equipment allows us to provide local emergency responders with the equipment needed to handle a large hazardous chemical incident,” Warner said. “The EMA office has also attended emergency response training provided by Norfolk Southern. This training enables us to work with emergency responders and to assist in any way possible.” 

The fire chief said that in the months Warner has been EMA director he has been “really easy to work with” and that “we have a good relationship between both organizations.” 

Aside from that, Thornton said he hopes to soon see the results of a study on what hazardous materials are transported through Decatur on a daily basis via trucks, trains and waterways. The study was performed Feb. 26 through March 8 and was paid for with a grant. Officials are awaiting the results.  

Bad weather 

This time of year, Warner’s concerns lie with flash flooding, tornadoes and even the Redstone Arsenal aircraft that fly over residential Decatur while on training missions. 

As Emergency Management director, Warner prepares plans and procedures for responding to natural disasters or other emergencies and also helps lead the response during and after emergencies. This includes severe storms and tornadoes. 

“Our office is always aware of the potential for severe weather in Morgan County,” Warner said. “Our office is a member of the North Alabama Mutual Aid Association, which is a group of 22 counties that aid each other in an emergency bigger than what a local EMA can handle.” 

He said this association came to Morgan County to assist in the March 2023 tornadoes. 

“We are always ready to assist local emergency responders in the event of a tornado, but our work does not stop there,” Warner said. “We are responsible for damage assessments, coordinating with the Alabama Emergency Management Agency to compile the information needed and researching the need for a potential emergency declaration.” 

Mass wreck plan 

Warner said Morgan Countians may not realize it but they are “blessed with trained, dedicated and professional emergency responders” who are far too often dispatched to mass wrecks. 

“These mass wrecks often involve hazardous materials, and our responsibilities include coordinating with various state agencies to ensure proper cleanup occurs.” 

Most commonly EMA communicates with the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, the Alabama Department of Transportation and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, he said. 

“Collectively, we collaborate to make sure that the incident is handled in a way that presents the least amount of impact to the citizens and environment of Morgan County.” 

One thing the EMA recently did was update its mass fatality plan. 

“Unfortunately, in the world we live in, this is something that we must be prepared for,” Warner said. “We coordinate with the Morgan County Coroner’s Office frequently. We also are aware of prepositioned state assets in north Alabama that would assist in a mass shooting/mass casualty event.” 

He said the EMA also has a memorandum of understanding with local ambulance services and hospitals for such cases. 

“While I have many goals for our agency, the main goals include expanding public education, strengthening already strong relationships with our emergency responders, updating emergency response equipment and expanding the services that we offer to Morgan County citizens,” he said. 

Overhead aircraft 

One concern some residents have involves the aircraft from Redstone Arsenal that frequently train in the Decatur area and sometimes fly over residential areas. 

“We are aware of Redstone Arsenal activities and the fact that it is a concern for our citizens,” Warner said. “Redstone Arsenal shares information with us concerning their activities. We share that information via social media, and to other agencies that can relay the information, as well.” 

If an accident were to happen, the lead agency would be the Fire Department and then it would be turned over to law enforcement. 

“EMA would support all agencies on scene and would assist in any way possible,” Warner said. “We could assist by getting more resources or specialized resources, activating our Emergency Operations Center, requesting state resources, requesting the Red Cross (and other volunteer agencies), ensuring any hazardous materials are mitigated and making sure responders are taken care of.” 

Nuclear plant 

Warner recently learned more about radiological disaster mitigation by attending the National Radiological Emergency Preparedness convention in Dallas. Specifically, he learned how to communicate better with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the event of a release of radiation from Tennessee Valley Authority’s Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Plant in adjacent Limestone County. 

One of the seminars he attended discussed interacting with FEMA evaluators during simulated radiological exercises. During such an exercise, officials from various agencies collect data and make decisions about how to best notify and protect the public. 

“We are required to prove to FEMA that we are prepared in the event of a radiological emergency,” Warner said. “This seminar gave insight into dealing with FEMA and how to make an exercise as realistic as possible. I feel like I am better prepared for a radiological exercise, which also makes me better prepared for a real radiological event.” 

While radiological emergencies are rare, EMA works closely with the TVA to ensure it is prepared for a radiological release, Warner said. 

“This close relationship is crucial to completing this task,” he said. “We are constantly training, updating equipment, gathering information and sharing information with others.” 

This readiness includes collaboration with all emergency responders in Morgan County, school boards, many volunteer organizations and many other state and federal agencies, he said. 

Warner believes his office is adequately funded to accomplish what needs to be done. 

“The Morgan County Commission recognizes the importance of the EMA office and the resources needed to do our job,” Warner said. “The commission does a great job of funding us adequately.” 

He said TVA provides funding for radiological emergency preparedness and is “a great partner.” 

While these are the office’s two main funding sources, Warner said his office also uses grants and other revenue streams. 

 

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