By Daniel Bierschwale EBS COLUMNIST
A little over a year ago, Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem experienced a natural disaster coined as “a thousand-year event.” It’s not the first time our region has experienced disasters on a significant scale. The 1959 earthquake forming Quake Lake and 1988 Yellowstone National Park fires were notable acts of God. Not to mention, the COVID-19 pandemic is a fairly fresh wound our region is still recovering from. I don’t know about you, but it sure felt like it rained for 40 days and nights this spring. Thankfully, we didn’t see another epic flood. But the steady rain, melting snow and the one-year anniversary of the Yellowstone River flood makes it timely to discuss some critical factors in mitigating the impacts of disasters. After all, it wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.
It takes a village
Last year Gallatin and Madison counties signed an agreement to consolidate emergency management services in Big Sky. The agreement established a single agency responsible for Big Sky to create more efficiencies and consistency without worrying about the county boundary. Similar arrangements are also in place for law enforcement, coroner, search and rescue, and 911 dispatch. What this means is that during a large-scale incident in Big Sky, response coordination and recovery activities will not be split between the counties. Gallatin County Emergency Management will play a key role should disaster strike and they will certainly do it through coordinated effort with local agencies.
In times of immediate local response, we are in good hands through the support of Big Sky Fire Department (BSFD) and locally dedicated deputies with the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office. These agencies would work in coordination with Gallatin County Emergency Managementto keep Big Sky safe. A recent agreement between Gallatin and Madison counties and BSRAD funded an additional two sheriffs, bringing law enforcement services to 24-hour coverage—a huge win for Big Sky. Additionally, through the leadership of BSFD, the Fire Adapted Big Sky Wildfire HUB and accompanied Big Sky Wildfire Action Guide were launched as preparation resources for the community of Big Sky.
What can I do?
Following the direction of BSFD, the best time to plan for an emergency is long before disaster strikes. Four key steps are outlined in the guide for how you, as a resident of Big Sky, can do your part. The first step is to receive emergency alerts. To receive alerts while you are in Big Sky, sign up for free notifications, provided by the Gallatin County Community Notification System powered by Everbridge. Secondly, make a family emergency plan with accessible emergency numbers, designated meet-up locations, and an identified escape route. The third step is to inventory your home. Lastly, pack a to-go bag. Store enough supplies for yourself, your family, and your pets to last at least three days. Keep the supplies somewhere handy.
On the prevention front, we should all give our homes the best chance for survival. “Own your zone” and prioritize exterior home protection by designing and implementing defensible space and maintaining appropriate landscaping. Last but not least, prepare to leave at a moment’s notice, stay alert, and follow emergency orders.
Plan and prepare for the worst
One lesson our community learned from the pandemic was the need to financially prepare for emergencies. Many thought a flood, earthquake, or fire would surely be the “Big One” in Big Sky. However, the onset of COVID-19 was the eye-opening experience exemplifying the need to “plan for a rainy day.” Despite limited funds on hand, our community forged funding partnerships through Big Sky Relief. The effort demonstrated the true power of how a partnership-driven community can work together and overcome hard times. The lesson moving forward uncovered the need to ensure that our community has financial viability should the “Big One” hit. Since that time, BSRAD funded “Emergency Reserves” have now been established should another event happen at this scale.
Much like Noah, who planned for the “act of God” before it happened, we can all do our part to ensure that when it rains – we are prepared for the emergency.
Daniel Bierschwale is the Executive Director of the Big Sky Resort Area District (BSRAD). As a dedicated public servant, he is committed to increasing civic engagement and voter education. Many ballot issues impact government services and public funding including subsequent property tax impacts. BSRAD is the local government agency that administers Resort Tax, which offsets property taxes while also funding numerous community-wide nonprofit programs.