Topeka Flanked by state and local emergency responders, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said Tuesday that Kansas had made great strides to protect residents from disasters - man-made and natural.
Sebelius signed a proclamation designating September as "Kansas Preparedness Month," urging residents to take their own steps to prepare for emergencies, such as gathering supplies and practicing plans for seeking shelter.
"Most disasters don't give us a lot of warning," Sebelius said.
The governor also signed the latest version of the state's emergency response plan, updated with new procedures for interaction among all levels of government. In marking the event, she noted that Tuesday's ceremony was sandwiched between last week's one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina slamming the Gulf Coast and the fifth anniversary next week of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
"There is a stark reminder that each and every day we need to do what we can at the state level to make sure that our citizens are safe and secure and we're prepared for any kind of event, even an attack by outside forces that we can't predict," Sebelius said. "What we can predict is that we live in a state where we have natural disasters."
Maj. Gen. Tod Bunting, state adjutant general, said the national disasters, as well as frequent tornadoes and snowstorms seen in Kansas, had prompted counties to focus their preparedness efforts. Much of the effort has been aimed at developing emergency plans, training key staff and using federal grants to boost resources.
"They've made great strides. Every one of the counties has a level of planning within the resources they have," Bunting said.
The state emergency management staff also includes regional planners who work with counties, Bunting said, while additional resources are available on the Internet.
Sen. Jay Emler, chairman of the Joint Committee on Kansas Security, said legislators would look at spending more money next year to continue funding regional emergency management coordinators. Those coordinators, currently funded with federal resources, work directly with counties on preparedness issues as well as providing assistance during emergencies.
Emler, R-Lindsborg, said the greatest improvement in recent years had been enhancing emergency communications among first responders. Kansas has used state and federal dollars to improve radio capabilities, including establishing nine mobile teams that can deploy across the state to provide communication support between local and state responders.
Recently, a team from the federal Department of Homeland Security toured the Statehouse complex in downtown Topeka, which includes three state office buildings and the Kansas Judicial Center. Bunting said that review affirmed several measures put in place to provide security to the workers and visitors.
"The challenge in government is public access versus total security. And we default toward public access. So you incur a certain level of risk by making things available to the public," Bunting said. "But the highest percentage of people don't pose a risk. We have to focus on those handful of people who need to be watched closer than others."