Wednesday April 21, 2021

Cabarrus Emergency Management Planner reflects on year of COVID

Jason Burnett, Emergency Management Planner

When COVID-19 hit, Cabarrus County’s Emergency Management (EM) team got to work.

EM Planner Jason Burnett and his team shined over the past year, tackling the often new challenge of a pandemic with steady leadership and meticulous coordination.

Burnett recently reflected on the year, discussing his department’s key roles.

After launching the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) on March 27, 2020, the group worked to find and distribute available resources, such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), coordinated temporary shelter for homeless people exposed to the illness and assisted County departments and the community with pandemic-related challenges.

Burnett served as Planning Section Chief of the EOC, meaning he was responsible for collecting and evaluating incoming pandemic information, developing daily incident actions plans, facilitating planning meetings and determining resource needs.

“Most of what EM and the EOC accomplishes is addressed behind the scenes,” Burnett said. “Our mission for any emergency—large or small—is to support the incident to the best of our ability.”

When the EOC first launched, it was staffed with representatives from many County departments including Fire Services, EMS, Infrastructure and Asset Management, Human Services, Transportation, Communications & Outreach and partner organizations, such as Cabarrus Health Alliance and Atrium Health.

“Collaboration was key early on because we all had to lean on each other’s various levels of experience and training to successfully address the pandemic challenges in our community,” Burnett said. “That group effort during a constantly changing environment truly shows our resiliency as a team and county.”

Throughout the year, the team’s normal workload slowed in other areas, since most of North Carolina was closed or under stay-at-home restrictions.

“Our Fire Services staff was set up to provide 24/7 support for other emergencies that occurred within Cabarrus, allowing the rest of the team to focus on the response to the pandemic,” Burnett added.

Despite the multi-disciplined collaboration, challenges remained.

“We train for all types of hazards, including our response to a pandemic event,” Burnett said. "This was our first real-life experience dealing with a pandemic, so we had to adapt and quickly overcome the unfamiliarity to address the needs of our community.

“What helped most was the training for other events and how we applied those aspects to this pandemic,” he added.

As the social distancing became push more prevalent, the EOC went virtual on May 15, 2020.

“It was challenging at first, but we adapted and quickly pushed through the learning curve of meeting online,” he said. “The availability of multiple virtual platforms allowed us to continue carrying out our mission even as we speak today. We’ve now incorporated this virtual concept into all our EOC activations moving forward.”

Now that more people are being vaccinated and restrictions are continuing to lift in phases, the EM team is slowly starting to see a return to “somewhat normal” daily operations.

Burnett says the past year taught him a lot. He plans to continue using the experience to help improve the overall service delivery of the EM team.

“One important thing that I learned from all of this is to be more patient,” he said. “This pandemic was—and still is—a rapidly changing situation. This past year has been extremely trying on so many, and my hope is that we can come out of this stronger than we were before.”

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