Our View: Unified effort promises benefits in face of disaster

After rejecting Rochester's request to join 2 1/2 years ago, the 16 counties of the Region 1 Joint Powers Board for Homeland Security and Emergency Management reversed course in December and invited the city to be part of the southeast Minnesota collaborative.

Rochester City Council members have shown unanimous support for being part of the group. "By working with these other groups, we give ourselves more assets than we already have," said council member Mark Bilderback, who has been certified as a Minnesota Homeland Security emergency manager. He added: "It gives us a better reach and gives us better accessibility to the groups out there today."

Ken Jones, Rochester's emergency management director, noted last week the new opportunity for coordination comes after demonstrating the merits of city-county interaction. When Rochester's request was denied in 2012, he said the city opted to start its own program, which started getting regional attention. As a result, Kevin Torgerson, who was the director of Olmsted County Homeland Security and Emergency Management before becoming sheriff this year, reached out to work with city staff and eventually encouraged Region 1 members to put together a new agreement, asking Rochester to join.

Jones said he sees joining the group as a worthwhile effort. "In short, I think it's a great idea," he said. "I think anytime we can feel like we're part of the discussion, it's a good thing."

While a couple questions remain to be answered regarding the multi-government agency's funding and meeting practices, Jone said he believes an agreement will be presented to the council for approval soon.


We're glad to see the city moving forward and hope the cooperative effort can be started with positive steps. Jones noted there have been some struggles in the region as Rochester, with its unique status as the region's only City of the First Class, has sought to work with counties on equal footing, because the city is eligible for federal funding similar to what counties receive. "None of this emergency management stuff has been warm and fuzzy. A lot of it has been contentious," he said, noting, "There are still some rough edges."

Those rough edges need to be sanded off through cooperation. The mission of these departments is too important.

We understand governments can become territorial, seeking to protect their standing, but when discussing public safety, territories don't matter — people do. In the event of a disaster -- natural or man-made — political boundaries don't matter, but the ability to cooperate does.

The Region 1 Joint Powers Board is made up of a counties that handle emergency management differently. Some have dedicated staffs, while others have directors who also handle additional responsibilities. Likewise, resources are varied from county to county. That's why all available options need to be taken into consideration.

The addition of Rochester, as well as the Prairie Island Indian Community, simply provides new options. As long as every government body involved is contributing equally based on their abilities and they remain eager to work together, we see the effort as beneficial to all southeast Minnesota residents.

And with a larger united force seeking to keep us safe, we know more people in the region will be able to sleep easier.

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