Reno Co. works to improve disaster response after March fires

RENO COUNTY, Kan. (KSNW) – Reno County law enforcement officials are working to improve how they respond in times of disaster after wildfires tore through the area in early March.

“None of us had faced anything to this extent, currently in law enforcement or the fire service here,” said Reno County Sheriff Randy Henderson.

Sheriff Randy Henderson said he hopes he and his staff are never faced with another disaster like the Highlands Fire, but if they are Henderson said his team is ready, having learned from the March fires.

“We did a good job. Can we do better? Sure,” Henderson said. “There were some decisions if I had to make them again, they’d probably be different.”

On Tuesday, Henderson, the interim fire chief, emergency manager and other local law enforcement officials met with the county commissioners to discuss how things played out during the wildfires and how they can improve if another disaster strikes. One of the¬†group’s goals is to bring back the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program. It’s a program dedicated to bringing in other agencies from across the state to help with recovery efforts.

“In preparation for an event like this I might tell the group that if we have an incident in Andover, Kansas, I’m sending four guys and four cars and that’s pre-planned, ahead of time,” Henderson said.

Henderson said he and county staff is also working to change the way people are let in and out of evacuation zones. During the fires, Henderson said the county received several complaints from farmers and ranchers who were denied access to their property to feed and water their animals.

“We are working on a plan where maybe they will be escorted, maybe not by the homeowner, maybe by a group of cattleman, that will just go in and feed and water the animals,” Henderson said.

Henderson said the ultimate goal is to prevent damage while keeping everyone safe. He added improving communication and education is also a top priority.

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