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Federal grants bolster Davison Co. Emergency Management’s abilities

Davison County Emergency Management Department stocked up on roughly $700,000 worth of equipment used for emergency services following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

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Emergency Management Administrator Jeff Bathke stands next to the side by side vehicle Tuesday at the Davison County search and rescue building. The vehicle is used for search and rescue missions and cost roughly $37,000. (Sam Fosness / Republic)

Thanks to grant funding from the Department of Homeland of Security, Davison County Emergency Management has the necessary equipment to provide vital emergency services.

However, funding updates to the equipment used for search and rescue missions and disaster response has become a challenge since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Emergency Management Administrator Jeff Bathke said.

“After 9/11, the federal government passed out a lot of money, and most of the equipment we have was funded through the Department of Homeland Security,” Bathke said. “Over the years, that federal money has become less available.”

According to Bathke, the Davison County Emergency Management Department stocked up on roughly $700,000 worth of equipment used for emergency services following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The 4,245-square-foot building the equipment is stored in western Mitchell was also funded in full by the Department of Homeland Security in 2005.

While the equipment used by the search and rescue, a division of Davison County Emergency Management, has been used seldom this year, it proved its worth for the two missions that occurred this spring. Bathke said the two call outs the search and rescue squad responded to this year -- which both involved missing bodies in the James River -- marked the worst year for fatalities, because a total of three dead bodies were found in the combined incidents.

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“We’ve had the slowest year for our search and rescue team, but it was also the worst year,” Bathke said. “Just because the equipment is not used all that much, it’s still extremely important to have for emergency services.”

According to Bathke, updating the equipment is vital for the search and rescue and disaster response teams to provide assistance and emergency services at the highest standard. Bathke is in the process of purchasing a new mobile home, which serves as the Davison County Search and Rescue Mobile Emergency Operations Center.

Even though the equipment funding primarily comes from federal grants, all of the existing equipment purchased by the Davison County Emergency Management Department must be approved through the Davison County Commission, adding another challenge to the process.

Bathke’s quest to replace the Department’s mobile home operations center has run into some roadblocks while waiting for the County Commission’s approval to make that purchase.

“To buy a new setup like this, it costs us roughly $500,000,” Bathke said, noting the price of a new mobile home is an unreasonable request to put before the County Commission. “I found a used one a while back, but by the time I got the County Commission’s approval it was already sold.”

Due to the decrease in funding from the Department of Homeland Security, Bathke has been looking for other avenues to update the equipment.

Between local donors and the County Commission chipping in, Davison County Emergency Management has been able to gain some equipment with money from sources other than the Department of Homeland Security. For example, Avera Queen of Peace Hospital donated the Department's mobile home operations center.

“We are fortunate to have some of the equipment donated to us, but it’s important to update the equipment in order to provide our emergency services,” Bathke said. “Some of our trucks are really old, along with the mobile home being in rough shape.”

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