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MAINE EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY
Aroostook County EMA Internships a Win-Win-Win
February 28, 2008
There are sides to county government many people will never see. Emergency management is one of those.
For Tammy Connor, a graduate of the University of Maine at Fort Kent, her internship with Aroostook County Emergency Management Agency (AKEMA) introduced her to the behind the scenes planning efforts to keep people safe. “I believe citizens do not have any concept of how much work goes into planning and keeping towns safe,” Connor said. “I, for one, didn’t know until I became part of CERT [a local, volunteer emergency response team] and interned at AKEMA.”
Aroostook County’s Emergency Management staff consists of just three full-time staffers. For a county geographically the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined, the need for additional manpower is apparent. “With our very small staff, we need to find innovative ways to get work accomplished,” said Vern Ouellette, Aroostook County’s emergency management director. “Typically we use one or two interns each year.” Interns are made available because of the Rural Public Safety program at the University of Maine at Fort Kent. Every student in the program must participate in an internship of 240 hours or more.
Ouellette is also an adjunct instructor at UMFK. “I have a lot of interaction with students on campus,” he said. “They know that they can call anytime and we’ll find work for them.”
Internship projects are designed with the students’ interests in mind. “We pick projects for them that are targeted and specific – it’s a learning tool for them, as well,” said Ouellette. Assigned projects are designed not just to help AKEMA, but also to benefit the community.
One intern evaluated local and county response plans for hazardous materials spills after determining what chemicals local companies used that posed a community risk. Another conducted a review of all disaster shelters for all of the communities in the county. He created a database, documenting shelter contact information, available space, and what these shelters would need for equipment and supplies in the instance they were opened in an emergency.
The internship program saves Aroostook County’s emergency management agency a great deal of money, also. One intern spent a semester creating emergency operation plans for communities that had no plans at all. State law requires that every town has emergency operation plans in place – one intern created 28 plans for Aroostook communities, sending them back to each municipality for local review and revision. “Typically if we do them, we are talking about $75 or $100 per plan – so that intern really earned her pay,” Ouellette said.
Interns at AKEMA do not always remain just interns. Rick Roman, a recent graduate of the University of Maine at Fort Kent was hired by the Agency part-time to direct emergency planning efforts for area schools. Roman’s position was funded by a grant from the Department of Homeland Security.
While an intern at AKEMA, Roman created a database detailing all emergency response resources and assets available within the county – fire trucks, police officers, radios, and more. Eventually, utilizing geographic information systems (GIS), his database will be developed into a real-time, map –driven system allowing emergency responders to know with the click of a computer mouse how far away critical resources are. “Building that database and the library was a huge task – that was Rick’s goal for his internship,” said Ouellette.
Connor believes her internship gave her new insight into county government, and new respect for their work. “AKEMA is a little place that needs to expand and stay around for Aroostook County,” she said. “I know that they’ll be there for the community when people need them.”
For more information about internships with AKEMA, contact director Vern Ouellette at email@example.com.
Contact:Vern Ouellette, Aroostook County EMA
Last update: 07/20/10
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