Central Missouri EMA faces sharp reduction in funding

The Cole County EMA is receiving nearly seven times less money from the government than it was just four years ago.

Staff at the Cole County Emergency Management Agency are concerned about their ability to make equipment purchases and upgrades they say are needed to provide the best possible response to disasters.

Whether it is a train derailment, a chemical spill, or the aftermath of a tornado, EMA Coordinator Bill Farr said they have to be ready for anything, all of the time.

"If we had cell towers go down or a 911 system goes down, as in the past we can take our truck and pull right on site," Farr said, referring to their mobile 911 center. "We know communications are number one."

Farr said Sunday's tornadoes are a stark reminder of why their Homeland Security Response Team needs to be ready.

"Take the tornadoes in Arkansas for example. Some of those tractor trailers were turned over. Is that a chemical hazard? A lot of vehicles were turned over. The gas tanks may have been split open. There's oil residue," Farr said.

However, maintaining the equipment is not cheap. The region's three HAZMAT teams cost $90,000 to train and maintain in 2013. Their suits cost $3,000 a piece and only have a "shelf life" of five to ten years.

Farr said it costs $10,000 per year to maintain the mobile 911 center.

To make matters worse, the Central Missouri Region received around $159,000 from the government last year, down from around $700,000 in 2010.

Most of that money will go towards maintaining the equipment that they have, not purchasing new equipment or making technology upgrades.

Jefferson City residents said they think the EMA is an organization that absolutely needs to be well-funded.

"Emergency funded programs should be funded adequately, because it keeps us out of danger," said Jefferson City Resident Evans Chanache.

Jack Matteson said he's been through several close calls with tornadoes before, and that the area should take no chances. "Whatever they need is what they should have," Matteson said. "I mean, you don't spend it until it's needed."

Farr said cutting-edge equipment is a necessity for saving lives.