CHEYENNE – Nearly every county in Wyoming has signed onto an agreement to share resources during emergency situations, and Laramie County is expected to join by the end of the year.
Though many counties already provide support to nearby neighbors, the Inter-County Mutual Aid Agreement provides a statewide framework for assistance. The agreement was established in 2013 by the Wyoming All Hazards Association, which focuses on emergency management.
Laramie and Crook counties are the only two in Wyoming that have not yet joined the agreement. Though initially between just three counties in western Wyoming, the agreement quickly spread to other bordering counties, WAHA President Rich Ochs said.
“I think before the end of this year, we could see all 23 counties signed onto it,” Ochs said.
Jeanine West, director of Laramie County Emergency Management, said she hopes to have the Laramie County Commission vote on the agreement during its Oct. 15 meeting.
“We had some staffing changes in our agency, and that’s why we held off for about a year or so on getting this signed,” West said.
The Laramie County agency can provide resources such as a mobile-command post, generators and sheltering trailers.
“If they do need additional law enforcement or fire resources, I can also be that liaison to get in touch with or help coordinate with those other agencies within Laramie County,” West said.
The agreement mirrors the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, a nationwide agreement that allows states to share resources without having to wait on a response from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“It really shows an intent to help other counties in the state and be able to receive help without having to go to the state first,” Ochs said. “Through state statutes, all the emergency managers are directed to create mutual aid agreements, so this fulfills that requirement.”
Since sheriff’s departments are funded through the county, they will have the option to use the agreement, while municipal law enforcement agencies will not.
“If a town can handle it themselves with their own public works department, their own police department, they deal with it,” Ochs said. “If they can’t, they’re supposed to then ask the county for assistance, so at that point … the county can open up this mutual aid agreement.”
Though municipalities cannot sign onto the inter-county agreement, Ochs said it’s possible that either a similar agreement between mayors or a combined deal with counties and municipalities will develop in the future.
“Wyoming’s one big small town, so it probably makes sense to just put everybody in the same agreement,” Ochs said.
Though regional agreements between counties already existed, Ochs said it makes more sense to have an agreement for all 23 counties.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, you really only need to have agreements with those counties that are around you,” said Ochs, who coordinates emergency management in Teton County.
“Our argument for the statewide agreement is if I have a major blizzard that shuts everything down on the west side of the state, all of my neighboring counties are probably impacted by that same blizzard,” he said. “But in Niobrara County, it might be 60 degrees and sunny, and they may have resources that they can send to help me.”
After all the counties are signed onto the agreement, adding Native American groups such as the Northern Arapaho tribe could be a next step, Ochs said.
“They have the option of going directly to the president for disaster assistance, but there may be times when it’s faster to get something from the next county over,” Ochs said. “It’s a different tool that they could add to their toolbox, and we would definitely be open to that discussion, too.”
Tom Coulter is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s state government reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-633-3124. Follow him on Twitter at @tomcoulter_.