Douglas County Emergency Management Director Paula Phillips told a group of about 15 Douglas County and city of Lawrence officials that they'll be key players in any response to a disaster that happens in the area.
"You'll have a lot of tough choices to make," Phillips said. "For instance, elected officials are going to be the ones who will have to decide how to bear the financial burden to deal with the disasters, and I know you don't have a budget for that."
Phillips said city and county commissioners could find themselves faced with situations like the ones being dealt with by New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who just this week had to order a 15 percent budget cut to pay expenses related to disaster efforts.
"It's kind of a scary subject," County Commissioner Bob Johnson said. "I'm sure part of that is because of the times we live in and what has happened recently, but another part of it is just understanding the responsibility that we all have."
Commissioners agreed, though, that talking about responsibilities beforehand was helpful and should be a required exercise for all newly elected officials.
"It's so easy to get caught up in the emotion of a disaster and to make promises you can't keep and all sorts of other mistakes," County Commissioner Charles Jones said. "It's important to stay calm, and going over a plan like this beforehand should help us do that."
Other tips Phillips offered elected officials: Get out and talk to community members; immediately start thinking about policies aimed to help the community recover economically; and focus on communicating with fellow commissioners and other elected leaders.
The study session, which was during the county's commission's regular meeting, was attended by all five Lawrence city commissioners and representatives from Kansas University, Lawrence Police Department and Lawrence-Douglas County Fire and Medical.
-- Staff Writer Chad Lawhorn can be reached at 832-6362.