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The Difference Mitigation Makes

December 3rd, 2018 Emergency Management
1964 Anchorage Earthquake

1964 Anchorage Earthquake

In the Emergency Management world mitigation activities are sometimes the most challenging projects to justify funding requests for when officials compare those to the multitude of immediate need requests.  When we talk about mitigation, emergency managers are looking for projects where money spent now will reduce the loss later in a large disaster.  This loss can either be lives or monetary in nature that we are trying to reduce by making buildings and infrastructure more resilient, working with individuals to prepare themselves and their properties, and many other similar projects that reduce the impact from known hazards in a community.  In 1964 Anchorage experienced a magnitude 9.2 earthquake that killed hundreds and caused millions in damage.

Following the 1964 earthquake Anchorage spent a lot of time debating what could be done to minimize the damage the next time a major earthquake occurred.  In the coming years building requirements were established requiring earthquake building standards and limitations on where certain buildings can be constructed.  Development was also limited in locations that were not geologically secure during an earthquake.

1964 Anchorage Earthquake

1964 Anchorage Earthquake

54 years later Anchorage was again tested with a large earthquake.  While smaller than the 1964 quake, the magnitude 7.0 earthquake in 2018 was large enough to cause significant damage, and it did.  However compared to other places of the world where similar earthquakes have caused complete destruction and loss of life, Anchorage’s new quake caused damage and no fatalities.

Instead, the city adopted plans to limit building height, concentrate tall buildings on firmer ground in the core of downtown instead of its periphery (that’s why the Atwood and ConocoPhillips buildings are on Seventh Avenue) and to adopt tough codes for areas expected to have unsteady ground.

Charles Wohlforth explains in his recent article in the Anchorage Daily News how the changes in Anchorage’s building after 1964 can be directly attributed to the comparatively good outcome in 2018.  The lessons in Anchorage are well worth thinking about and employing here in the Northern Rockies.

More on Earthquake Preparedness

What about the pets!

September 17th, 2018 Emergency Management

Have you planned to meet your needs?

September 13th, 2018 Emergency Management

Bozeman’s Doug Chabot Inducted into Hall of Mountaineering Excellence

May 10th, 2018 Emergency Management

Every year the American Alpine Club honors multi-dimensional and impactful climbers who have made meaningful and lasting contributions to the mountains and their vibrant communities be it through culture and community, environmental responsibility and stewardship or the arts and sciences, by inducting them into the Hall of Mountaineering Excellence.

This year’s recipients will be inducted into the Hall of Mountaineering Excellence on June 2 at the American Alpine 2018 Excellence in Climbing Celebration to be held in Denver, Colorado. […]

Doug Chabot is being recognized for co-founding the non-profit Iqra Fund. This organization helps provide access to quality education, especially for girls, in the remote regions of northern Pakistan where economic, social and political barriers to education exist. Chabot resides in Bozeman, Montana, where he is the director of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center and also volunteers at Gallatin County Search and Rescue . More on Doug and his inspiring work can be found in this article from Outside Bozeman.

Excerpt from:  Rock and Ice

Cell Service in Bridger Canyon…

May 7th, 2018 Emergency Management

Until April cellular service in Bridger Canyon was spotty at best, but that all changed recently.  At the end of the ski season a cellular site was turned on at Bridger Bowl providing service for both Verizon and T-Mobile customers.  Now phones work reliably within a couple miles of the ski area and the higher in the mountains you get, the wider the coverage is.

This doesn’t negate the importance of being properly prepared when you recreate in Bridger Canyon.  Accidents still happen and it can take a long time to get help to you, so be prepared to be self sufficient when you go out.

  • Tell someone where you are going.
  • Be prepared for the weather and have emergency supplies.
  • Plan ahead and have a contingency plan.  If something does happen, stay put!

The Mountain Rescue Association recommends travelling with the following “10 Essentials” for summer travel:

1. Topographic map and magnetic compass

Too often, backcountry users venture deep into the backcountry without a map and compass. The fact that they are able to safely venture back out is usually pure
dumb luck. With a map and compass, it is much easier to identify your location and direction of travel. This is especially important in the event that you become lost.

2. Flashlight (with extra batteries and bulb)

How far do you suppose you could safely travel at night in the backcountry without a flashlight? Could you signal others, if you saw a campsite far away? A flashlight makes travel at night possible and aids in signaling when lost.

3. Extra clothing (including mittens, hat, jacket and rain gear)

Hypothermia is the most common killer of backcountry users. Inability to maintain body heat can quickly rob an unsuspecting victim of all energy and common
sense. Since severe weather may present itself very quickly in the backcountry, extra clothing should be carried to help maintain body heat.

4. Sunglasses

Especially in the winter, ultraviolet glare from the sun can cause blindness. Worst of all, the backcountry user may not realize this is happening until it is too late. A good pair of sunglasses, designed to limit ultraviolet light, will eliminate this risk.

5. Extra food and water

These items will maintain energy levels in the case of an emergency and help maintain body temperature in cold weather. While you can survive three days without water and three weeks without food, your energy levels will be seriously
depleted without these.

6. Waterproof matches in waterproof container

Waterproof matches, available from most backcountry supply stores, are capable of igniting in high winds and/or blinding rain. Building a fire may be impossible
without these. Fires are critical since they not only provide heat, but also make the job of search and rescue teams easier by providing a visible signal.

7. Candle/Fire starter

A candle burns much longer than does a match. This is helpful when trying to start a fire, especially if your firewood is wet.

8. Pocket knife

There are a multitude of applications for a pocketknife in emergencies. The common Swiss Army Knife is so-called because it is standard issue for the Swiss Army, which has devised 246 uses for their standard 7-instrument knife.

9. First aid kit

Proper first aid care is difficult, if not impossible, without a good first aid kit.
Backcountry shops carry several brands of small, lightweight first aid kits including small first-aid manuals.

10. Space blanket or two large heavy-duty trash bags

These items can help provide shelter in an emergency situation and can be used as a raincoat or a windbreak. The additional warmth they provide far outweighs their minimal weight.

Source:  General Backcountry Safety, MRA

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2017 Emergency Plan Published

October 23rd, 2017 Emergency Management

Annually officials from around Gallatin County review and update about 20% of our Emergency Management Plan.  Then every 5 years our elected officials formally adopt a new plan, with the most recent adoption being in 2016.  This year we reviewed the Warning, Communications, Community Infrastructure and Transportation Annexes of the plan.  Many of the revisions were clerical or just updating items that have changed.  With the variety of agencies we cover in this plan, things are always changing.

The Emergency Management Plan is designed to spell out Roles and Responsibilities for agencies and officials within Gallatin County.  The plan also provides a high level reference to tools and resources available within Gallatin County.  Our goal is always to pre-plan what we can so we don’t have to worry about those details when something bad happens.

You can view all of our planning documents on our plans page.

Now Offering – Incident Zones

September 20th, 2017 Emergency Management

Gallatin County has a new tool in our emergency alerting toolbox.  We now have the ability to create Incident Zones which are persistent alerting areas.  This means we define an alerting area and any new person who enters that area after the initial alert is sent also receives the alert when they enter the zone.  We see some great opportunities for this capability for incidents such as missing people, evacuated areas and many more.  Of course with many things in our world, this is just one tool and not the sole solution for interacting with the community.  In order for people to receive these alerts when they travel into an Incident Zone, they must have the Everbridge app, an Android phone or the Google Maps app.

To learn more about receiving emergency alerts here in Gallatin County visit

Montana Opts in to FirstNet

August 8th, 2017 Emergency Management

On August 7th Governor Bullock opted Montana into the FirstNet program making Montana the 12th state to opt in.  Under contract with FirstNet for the next 25 years AT&T will be responsible for operating a public safety network across the United States.  The FirstNet network allocates dedicated bandwith, along with prioritization and preemption, for public safety personnel’s mobile devices.  Like everyone else, mobile devices have become a critical part of how emergency officials conduct their business.  That also means that when the system slows down due to heavy usage, it can hinder emergency responders.  FirstNet helps address this by having dedicated bandwith (i.e. cellular frequencies know as Band 14) so responders aren’t competing with the general public for bandwidth.  FirstNet also incorporates prioritization of the bandwidth so those who need it for an emergency get priority usage.

The deployment of FirstNet will open a world of new possibilities for emergency officials and provide capabilities for new tools down the road.  To learn more about FirstNet visit the AT&T site at or the FirstNet site at



Montana FirstNet Announcement

Montana to Transform Communications for Public Safety;

Governor Bullock Approves Buildout Plan for First Responder Network

First-of-its-Kind Solution Will Create Jobs, Spur Investment and Modernize Public Safety Communications across the State

HELENA, Mont., Aug. 7, 2017 – Montana is moving to advance first responder communications. Today, Governor Steve Bullock announced his decision to accept the FirstNet and AT&T* plan to deliver a wireless broadband network to the state’s public safety community. This will make Montana the 12th state or territory to “opt-in” to FirstNet and bring advanced technologies that will help first responders save lives and protect communities.

“This partnership will allow us to provide our first responders increased capabilities to communicate effectively with the public as quickly as possible,” said Governor Bullock. “As wildfires across the state impact our communities and our hometowns, it’s critical that we support the efforts of the men and women protecting Montana with all resources available.”

AT&T, in a public private partnership with FirstNet, will build, operate and maintain a highly secure wireless broadband communications network for Montana’s public safety community at no cost to the state for the next 25 years. The FirstNet network will drive innovation and create an entire system of modernized devices, apps and tools for first responders.

By opting in, Governor Bullock is making one of the most economical and technologically advanced decisions for the state’s first responders and the residents they serve. The FirstNet network will transform the way Montana’s fire, police, EMS and other public safety personnel communicate and share information. Specifically, FirstNet and AT&T will:

Connect first responder subscribers to the critical information they need in a highly secure manner when handling day-to-day operations, responding to emergencies and supporting large events, like the annual Evil Knievel Days celebration in Butte or the International Wildlife Film Festival. Create an efficient communications experience for public safety personnel in agencies and jurisdictions across the state during natural disasters. This includes the 2012 wildfires that burned 1.1 million acres across the state, the Lodgepole Complex Fire and the Liberty Fire near Arlee, which has tripled in size during the past few days.   Enhance network coverage across Montana’s topographically diverse landscape, benefitting first responders and residents throughout the state’s rural and tribal areas.  Provide first responders with access to dedicated network deployable assets for additional coverage and support when needed.  Drive infrastructure investments and create jobs across the state.  Usher in a new wave of innovation that first responders can depend on. This will create an ever-evolving set of life-saving tools for public safety, including public safety apps, specialized devices and Internet of Things technologies. It also carries the potential for future integration with NextGen 9-1-1 networks and Smart Cities’ infrastructure.

FirstNet and AT&T designed Montana’s network solution with direct input from the state’s public safety community. This was facilitated through the Statewide Interoperability Governing Board, designated through executive order by Governor Bullock. FirstNet has been meeting with Montana’s officials and public safety personnel for several years to address their unique communication needs. This includes:

Expanding coverage in rural and tribal areas, where many Montanans reside. Enabling state, local, tribal and federal agencies to effectively communicate and coordinate along the border. Increasing capacity during emergencies and natural disasters through the use of deployables. “Governor Bullock’s decision to join FirstNet demonstrates Montana’s strong commitment to public safety,” said FirstNet CEO Mike Poth. “With this decision, Montana is putting 21st-century, lifesaving tools in the hands of the state’s first responders, bringing a modern, broadband platform to public safety across the state – including over rural, mountainous and remote locales. FirstNet looks forward to continuing to work with Montana to equip the state’s first responders with this vital technology, which will help them in their mission to save lives and keep Montana’s communities safe.”

The decision enables FirstNet and AT&T to begin creating an entirely new wireless ecosystem for public safety communications. Montana’s first responder subscribers will have immediate access to quality of service and priority to voice and data across the existing nationwide AT&T LTE network.

Preemption for primary users over the AT&T LTE network is expected by year-end. This means fire, police, EMS and other public safety workers will have dedicated access to the network when and where they need it – 24/7/365, like their mission.

“We’re honored to bring FirstNet to Montana,” said Chris Sambar, senior vice president, AT&T – FirstNet. “This is a major step forward for the state’s public safety community. By opting in, Governor Bullock is giving his first responders access to the innovative tools and technologies they need to help keep themselves and those they protect safer.”

“FirstNet will give Montana’s first responders access to the critical communications capabilities they need when seconds count and lives hang in the balance,” said Tara Thue, director, AT&T Montana. “AT&T has invested nearly $150 million in our Montana network infrastructure over the past 3 years. With Governor Bullock’s decision to opt-in to FirstNet, Montana will not only be able to expand and enhance communications capabilities for first responders, but the State will also be able to drive additional investment to deliver reliable, high speed wireless connections in areas with little or no connectivity today.”

Are Drones Really an Issue at Fires?

June 28th, 2017 Emergency Management

We’ve seen a lot in recent years about Drones affecting the suppression of wildfires.  I suspect many people have a hard time visualizing why that is.  The following article from KRQE News does a good job explaining.

Video released shows drone threatening crews over Cajete Fire

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – KRQE News 13 can now share a video of the drone that threatened aircrews over the Cajete Fire on Saturday.

The drone violated restricted airspace and forced all aerial firefighting to be stopped.

Firefighters on the ground and in the air were battling the Cajete Fire near Los Alamos Saturday. That’s when Air Attack Supervisor Craig Campbell spotted the illegal drone near an air tanker about to drop retardant. So, he took out his cell phone camera.

“I would have expected it to look like a drone with four propellers that kind of flies like that. What you saw was a bright red, somewhat cylindrical object moving through the air,” Campbell said.

All firefighting aircraft were immediately told to stop their work and return to their bases.

Firefighter aircrews move so fast and low, and the drones are so small, there could be a collision.

“You would expect significant damage to the aircraft and it could potentially be catastrophic,” Campbell explained.

This was Campbell’s first encounter with a drone over a fire. He said he had wondered how he would ever spot such a small aircraft.

“Well, in this case I was able to see it because it was so close to one of our other aircraft. And that’s part of what makes it scary,” Campbell said. “I assume they don’t understand the risk they’re putting all the people who are flying at. And that’s the only assumption I could make. It’s something that could be devastating to one of our aircraft.”

When an unauthorized drone is spotted over a fire it not only threatens aircrews up here, but also lives and property on the ground.

That’s because when air tankers and helicopters are forced to leave, flames gain an advantage on ground crews.

Authorities still don’t know who flew the drone over the fire Saturday. Flying a drone in restricted airspace is an FAA violation and can lead to an arrest.


Courtesy KRQE News 13, Albequerque

Early Warning System Checkup

June 22nd, 2017 Emergency Management

Each year we go up and visually inspect the Middle Creek Early Warning System to make sure it all looks good.  Wednesday was the day and after some hiking and sweating everything looked good.  The gauge stations were in good shape with no bullet holes found this year.  Over the winter we had one sensor with some intermittent readings, but it appears to be fine now (maybe it was just cold!).  The system consists of an upper and lower monitoring station with seven gauge sites between them.  This is designed to provide redundancy and avoid false alarms.  These monitoring stations then transmit to a repeater site up above which relays their status to Bozeman.  Learn more about the Middle Creek Dam at our Early Warning System page.

Mitigation Plan Updates

June 14th, 2017 Emergency Management

We’re Updating!

Gallatin County is updating our Hazard Mitigation Plan and incorporating our Community Wildfire Protection Plan into it.  You are probably wondering why you care, or how it may affect you.  Many people don’t realize the purpose or benefits of this document until they are affected by an incident.  However the plan is a key document that identifies the hazards in our communities and potential ways to minimize their affects.  In order to utilize several federal disaster programs we have to have the projects identified in our mitigation plan.  So our challenge is to make sure we don’t inadvertently miss that we should be identifying.

The best way for us to ensure we identify the communities hazards being faced is for the community to participate int he planning process.  There will be many ways for people to provide feedback as the process moves along and we ask that you take a few moments and provide us your thoughts.  You can request to be notified about opportunities to participate  Here.

We have a page dedicated to this update process at where you can obtain information on the process.

County Selects RESPEC to Update Plans

May 31st, 2017 Emergency Management

Gallatin County has selected RESPEC to both update the County’s Hazard Mitigation Plan and incorporate an updated Community Wildfire Protection Plan into the Mitigation Plan.  RESPEC’s personnel out of their Bozeman office will start this process on July 1, 2017 with an expected completion in early 2019.  The Hazard Mitigation Plan identifies hazards present in our communities and identifies approaches to reduce the impact from these hazards.  Having a current approved plan also ensures our community’s access to federal assistance programs to address the identified hazards as well as programs to recover following a large disaster.

RESPEC will be responsible for facilitating a collaborative community revision process throughout all the communities in Gallatin County.  This is envisioned to involve in person meetings at communities around the county, virtual meetings, and a comment process leading to a draft document.  The draft will then be taken back to our communities to verify its accuracy prior to adoption of a final document by the incorporated political subdivisions and submission to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  The county’s priority is to develop an accurate and reasonable plan that was developed collaboratively with the community.

While this process will begin on July 1st, due to the amount of collaboration and technical analysis we expect the process to run into early 2019.  If you would like to be notified about opportunities to participate in this process, please complete this survey:

Would You Be Notified?

April 25th, 2017 Emergency Management
Most people in today’s world are in a constantly connected state. In the emergency management world this makes spreading important information very quick. However the flip side is ensuring that our community is getting factual information from the official source can sometimes be challenging with everything else be passed around. In addition, we surprisingly still face the emergency alerting challenge of, “How do we notify people who are asleep?”
To help emergency officials in Gallatin County quickly and accurately notify affected communities of emergencies we launched the Community Notification System last summer. This system allows officials to quickly target a defined area with emergency information as well as immediately push the information to social media and affiliated systems. However, ensuring you receive immediate information directly from officials requires a little time on your part.
By spending 5 minutes registering in the Community Notification System you’ll ensure that we can alert you about the locations you care about. When you register you tell us what locations you care about and how you want to be notified (phone call, text message, smart phone app and more). So, take a couple minutes and visit and register, then get your friends and family to register too.
If we can’t reach you, we can’t alert you!

Spring Flood Season Approaching

March 9th, 2017 Emergency Management

Residents in Gallatin County are encouraged to prepare their property for spring flooding.  Southwest Montana is rapidly approaching spring runoff and once this occurs the possibility of flooding at any point will be present.  Officials recommend property owners prepare for flooding before spring runoff starts.  Once the runoff begins flowing it is often difficult to properly prepare your property and if flooding does occur, it is to late to protect your property.

Gallatin County recommends that residents in areas prone to flooding talk with their insurance agents about flood insurance.  If someone is considering flood insurance, now is the time to do it and have it take effect in time.  Flood insurance has a 30 day waiting period after purchasing a policy before your policy becomes active.  So don’t wait until it floods to get insurance, it will be too late.

Local officials also recommend preparing waterways around your property so they can accommodate as much water as possible.  We recommend clearing ditches and culverts of any debris that may have formed over the winter.  If larger projects are warranted on waterways, a permit will be required so start the process soon.

Residents that routinely see their property flooded should identify the materials they will need, such as sandbags, to properly protect themselves and stockpile it ahead of time.  Once flooding occurs it is often difficult to procure the proper supplies fast enough, so we recommend preparing ahead of time.

Additional information on flooding is available at:

Flooded House on Rouse Ave.

Dam Safety in Gallatin County

February 13th, 2017 Emergency Management


With the events unfolding at the Oroville Dam in California, we thought it would be a good time to talk about dam safety here.  First, you should be aware that dam failures rarely occur (especially with regulated dams).  With everything you are seeing about the Oroville Dam, let’s provide you some terminology that you’ll need in order to understand what people are talking about.  Dams in the United States are categorized into two types, low hazard and high hazard.  This does not reflect how safe a dam is or isn’t, simply the type of impact it would have if it was to fail.  A low hazard dam indicates that there is a low likelihood of impact to human life.  Conversely, a high hazard dam will likely affect human life because there is a population base in it’s inundation area (i.e. houses, towns, roads, etc…).

The inundation area is where computer models have forecast the water will go in the event of a dam failure.  Keep in mind, these are models who’s accuracy are affected by a lot of different factors such type of failure, how full the reservoir is, amount of water coming in the reservoir and other factors.  Typically when you see a mapped inundation area used for emergency planning, it is some form of a worst case scenario.  Two common models used in the United States are Probable Maximum Flood and Clear Weather Breach.  Probable Maximum Flood means the model is assuming the reservoir is completely full, the maximum amount of water is currently filling the reservoir and the dam completely fails at once.  In a Clear Weather Breach we assume the reservoir is at a normal operating level, normal inflow to the reservoir and the dam completely fails.

Middle Creek Dam Features

Spillway Gates

There are many types of designs and configurations of dams, however the components are all the same.  If the dam is power generating, typically they will have a water intake in the reservoir which funnels water through a pipe into turbines and it discharges out the bottom of the dam in a pool which forms the beginning of river or creek.  Often a non-power generating dam will have a similar configuration where it may pass straight through, or may have some diverted to irrigation systems.  Dam’s will also have a primary spillway which is often concrete (even in an earthen dam) and the amount of water discharge from the reservoir through the spillway is controlled by movable gates.  This is the primary method many dams will utilize to control the level of the reservoir. It is common for dam operators to discharge excess water through the spillway during spring runoff to maintain the proper reservoir height or when they need to cut back on power generation.  Dams can also use the spillway to control other factors such as increased river flow.  Typically dams will also have an emergency spillway.  The emergency spillway is often a portion of the dam that is designed to have water flow over it in an emergency.  This emergency spillway sits lower than the main dam infrastructure so that excess water flows through it and not over the main dam itself.  Basically it is a reinforced portion, often on one side, that channels water over the dam in a location where it won’t damage the integrity of the dam face.

Risk of Dam Failure

Overall, the risk of dam failures is very low.  This is especially true of dams that are part of a regulated inspection programs.  In Montana dams are typically regulated by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation or if they generate power the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  These dams following a specific inspection, maintenance, and emergency planning process as part of their license.  Unfortunately there are also situations where someone builds a dam on their own (often for irrigation) and it is unregulated and unknown to the regulating agency.  Despite how it may seem, a lot of science and engineering goes into a properly built dam and home built dams are a danger.

Many of the dam failures of larger dams have occurred upon the initial fill or shortly after completion.  In 1908 the Hauser Dam near Helena, MT failed a little more than a year after construction.  In 1976 the Teton Dam in Idaho failed on it’s initial fill with water.  In 2008 the Hebgen Dam suffered a failure on their control gates resulting in uncontrolled spillway discharge.  Often the dam failures that cause the most damage are from smaller dams.  This is likely due to ownership and management that may not have the correct skills, belief that it’s a small dam and doesn’t pose a risk, underestimating what the risk is, or other similar issues.  For example, 86% of dam failure injuries were from dams less than 50 feet tall.*  Even with a low frequency of failure, when dams have failed they can cause significant damage.  Like much of our infrastructure in the United States, many of our high hazard dams were constructed many years ago requiring continued maintenance by their owners.

High Hazard Dams Affecting Gallatin County

Gallatin County has 7 high hazard dams that have inundation areas in our county (3 located outside the county).  These consist of:

  • Middle Creek Dam in Hyalite.  Owned by Montana DNRC.
  • Green Hollow Dam up Spanish Creek.  Owned by Flying D Ranch.
  • Big Sky Dam (2 dams) Lake Levinsky and Big Sky Golf Course.  Owned by Boyne Resorts.
  • Hebgen Dam  NW of West Yellowstone.  Owned by NorthWestern Energy.
  • Madison Dam on Ennis Lake.  Owned by NorthWestern Energy.
  • Willow Creek Dam  East of Harrison (Harrison Lake).  Owned by Montana DNRC.

Download Google Earth Map File

You can read many of the emergency action plans for these dams at our Plans Page.

What Should I Do to Prepare

Being directly affected by a dam failure is like many of the hazards we face that that are a low likelihood of happening.  However, if it does happen, it will be a big deal.  The good news is that the preparation for a dam failure isn’t much different than anything else.  Gallatin County recommends you take the following simple steps:

  1. Make sure you get notified in a timely manner.  Each member of your house should register in our Community Notification System so we can quickly notify you of an imminent threat to you.
  2. Develop a family emergency plan.  This doesn’t have to be complicated, visit our family emergency plan page for more.
  3. If you live in an inundation area, talk about your evacuation route.  Move away and above the inundation area and try to avoid crossing the waterways.

Gallatin County Hazard Analysis

You can learn more about the hazards present here in Gallatin County on our Hazard Page.

Gallatin County Risk Analysis

2016 Emergency Management Plan

January 17th, 2017 Emergency Management

Emergency Management recently finished the 5 year revision cycle of our Emergency Management Plan.  In Montana, and most places, emergency management is responsible for developing a plan that identifies roles and responsibilities along with the overall system that governs your community during a disaster.  While this may seem like a simple task, it actually entails a lot of work and takes a long time.  During a disaster government isn’t able to conduct business like they do on a typical day.  Our emergency personnel will likely be over taxed, some tools or resources may not be available anymore, and some agencies may need to perform functions that aren’t their typical jobs.  All of these are examples of what we call planning assumptions.

We take these assumptions and use them to develop plans on how we would operate in these situations.  We try hard to stay at a high level focusing on roles and responsibilities and not get sucked into hypothetical tactical situations.  As you might guess, this can take a lot of time to get all the associated government agencies on the same page in this process.  To help with the work load, Gallatin County reviews 1/5th of the plan each year and adopts a new plan at the end of the 5 year cycle which we completed in December 2016 for all municipalities and unincorporated Gallatin County.

To help emergency officials remain proficient in disaster activities we regularly test our plan with a variety of exercises.  In March 2017 we will be conducting our next county wide disaster exercise focusing on escalating incidents.  This exercise will likely involve around 100 emergency officials for an evening of working through a fictional incident.  The fictional incident will have been developed by a planning team consisting of personnel from many agencies who will have spent 4 month developing the scenario.

You can learn more about Gallatin County’s preparedness planning on our Planning Page.


New Additions to Wireless Emergency Alerts

September 29th, 2016 Emergency Management

Phone Emergency Alerts Will Begin Including Links, Phone Numbers

Since their launch in 2012, cellphone emergency alerts have become a frequent tool for public safety officials to alert people to missing children, warn them of impending weather calamities or notify them of dangers specific to the local community.

But the alerts have also been criticized for their shortcomings — restricted to only 90 characters of plain text, they can’t carry images and have a hit-or-miss record of landing on the phones of exactly the people meant to receive the messages. The flaws were recently showcased by the alert in New York City that raised concerns about racial profiling as it solicited help in the search of a bombing suspect by sharing his name and age but then sending people to “media” for a photo.

The Federal Communications Commission has now voted to quadruple the maximum length of the alert to 360 characters and begin including clickable hyperlinks and phone numbers in the alerts, including Amber alerts. The phone carriers will be allowed to include the URLs and numbers within about a month and required to do so in about a year.

The rules for now still won’t allow for photos to be directly included in the messages, but the FCC is reviewing the possibility for the future. The order approved on Thursday does, however, push for alerts to be delivered more precisely to specific areas and requires support of alerts in Spanish as well as English.

The reason the change isn’t as easy as, say, texting an image to a friend is that it’s a different kind of process. Phone carriers pick up the alerts initiated by local, state or national authorities through a special computer network facilitated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The alerts then go out on a separate slice of airwaves than regular calls or texts — to ensure their delivery but also not to overwhelm the networks.

The phone companies, which highlight that they’ve participated in the program voluntarily, have warned that given the lack of existing standards for the new features, the interactive elements may create more confusion (for instance for older phones that don’t recognize links), overwhelm responders’ websites and cause network congestion. The carriers had argued for more time to prepare for more multimedia in alerts.

The FCC’s order also creates a new class of emergency alerts. Previously, there were three: (1) imminent threat (for example, severe weather or another emergency); (2) Amber alerts (for abducted children); (3) presidential messages during a national emergency (this has never been used).

The new addition will be a public safety message, defined by FCC officials as “essential public safety advisories that prescribe one or more actions likely to save lives or safeguard property.” These would be, for instance, notices of emergency shelter locations or orders to boil water before consumption.

This kind of use of cellphone emergency alerts has grown since their launch in 2012. As All Tech has reported before, so far this year, nonfederal authorities have already sent as many wireless emergency messages as in all the previous three years combined. More than 21,000 phone alerts have been sent since the launch, according to the FCC.

Many alerts are weather related, but they’ve also been used to urge people to “shelter in place” during active shooter situations or to evacuate during brush fires. Beyond images of missing children or suspects, the links could allow officials to share maps or other evacuation or safety instructions.

“When technology gives us the opportunity to save lives, to increase public safety,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said, “shame on us if we don’t seize on that opportunity.”

Wireless Emergency Alerts Locally

Learn more about Wireless Emergency Alerts here in Gallatin County and the Emergency Alert System at

Article Courtesy NPR, September 29, 2016
By Alina Selyukh

2016 Great Montana Shakeout

September 27th, 2016 Emergency Management

October 19th is your opportunity to practice Drop, Cover, and Hold On with the rest of Montana!


1959 Hebgen Lake Earthquake

Montana is a very seismically active state with 7-10 earthquakes occurring every day.  We haven’t seen a local earthquake cause significant damage in recent history, but let us not forget that the 1959 Hebgen Lake Earthquake is still the 14th largest earthquake ever in the United States!  The Great Montana Shakeout on October 19th is the perfect opportunity for you to practice the simple task of Drop, Cover and Hold On – no matter where you are.  Join your fellow Montanan’s at register to participate in the Great Montana Shakeout at 10:19 am on October 19th.

This can be as simple as performing Drop, Cover and Hold On and 30 seconds later going back to work, or a great opportunity to review your Family Emergency Plan for the year!  Material is available for a variety of settings such as schools, businesses, healthcare, government, and other organizations to easily participate.  Get more information at and earthquake preparedness at

10 Years After Derby

September 22nd, 2016 Emergency Management

It’s been 10 years since the Derby Fire ran across much of Stillwater County, leaving more than 200,000 acres and 26 homes in ashes after 23 days of smoke and flames. The landscape has dramatically changed, but so has the mindset of government officials who create disaster plans, and rural homeowners who take a closer look at building sites and materials. Drought, steep and remote terrain, and strong winds are still factors to consider when it comes to anticipating the next big fire.


Large wildfires are to be expected on the Beartooth Ranger District, based on forest surveys and anecdotal evidence. In 1904, John Leiberg of the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that 70 percent of the Forest Reserve that now makes up the ranger district had burned in the previous 120 years.  A forest study of the Benbow-Little Rocky area in 2014 reported evidence of a large fire that ran across the Beartooth Face in 1886. Pioneers from that time period recalled a fire that burned from the Boulder River drainage south of Big Timber to the Red Lodge area.
Forest Service fire records recorded 369 fires in the Beartooth Ranger District since 1970, of which 51 percent were human-caused and 49 percent were lightning-caused. Fire suppression efforts kept 85 percent of those fires under 10 acres. The rest grew large because of remoteness, steep terrain or dramatic weather events. The Storm Creek Fire burned 97,858 acres in 1988, and the Shepard Mountain Fire burned 14,890 acres and destroyed 32 structures in 1996.


Conditions in the Stillwater Valley were ripe for a large fire in 2006 – the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation reported that 98 percent of Stillwater County was in at least moderate drought, and 60 percent was in severe drought.
By October 2006, after the Derby Fire finally ended, Columbus Fire Chief Rich Cowger explained at that time that moisture came to the Stillwater region early that year, spurring plant growth in the spring. That was followed by a very dry summer that turned the lush springtime vegetation into fire fuels, resulting in 80 wildland fires, he said. The region also experienced the hottest summer since the 1930s, with average temperatures of 74.5 degrees.
The lightning-caused Derby Fire covered only 10 acres when it was discovered on Aug. 22, 2006 in the Sugarloaf/Arch Rock/Hicks Mountain ridge area, about seven miles northwest of Nye in Sweet Grass County.
An initial attack was made by Forest Service and local government firefighters. Smokejumpers who arrived first had limited success because of heavy fuels, limited access in remote and rugged terrain, and weather conditions.
The next day, the fire grew to 300 acres and crossed into Stillwater County. On Aug. 24, roads were closed in the vicinity of the fire as it grew to 3,000 acres. One day later, 170 homes were put on alert and a Type 2 incident team was assigned, as the fire grew to 12,100 acres.


An early assessment by fire officials determined residences in the area were likely threatened, but additional firefighting resources were limited by high fire activity elsewhere, with 64 large fires underway across the U.S. and seven large fires within the Forest Service Region 1. Locally, many firefighting resources had been directed to the human-caused Emerald Hills Fire in Lockwood, on the outskirts of Billings.
By Aug. 28, bulldozers were digging fire lines and burnout operations were underway as the fire grew to 18,000 acres. Residents in harm’s way were given evacuation notices on Aug. 29, as the fire hovered around 18,500 acres and headed toward the Bridger Creek drainage in Sweet Grass County.
Four firefighters in Columbus Fire Department’s Engine 42 found themselves that day in dense smoke near the Cliff Swallow Fishing Access Site not far from Nye.
“All of a sudden it got real dark,” Bob Johnson later reported. “It was so smoky, you couldn’t see.”
Suddenly a ball of embers struck the truck, which left the road and rolled once down the embankment, ending right-side up in the Stillwater River. With minor injuries, the crew waved off help from a crew in an Absarokee Fire Department truck because of the dangerous fire conditions. An hour later, an Absarokee ambulance arrived and evacuated the four men.
By Aug. 29, more than 400 firefighters were assigned to the Derby Fire, and burnout operations were underway. At the time Type 2 Incident Commander Glen McNitt praised local teams for bulldozing fire lines on the southern flank closest to endangered homes. On the north flank, fire crews were working in “tremendously steep and rugged country,” McNitt said, adding that aerial resources would be needed to handle forecasted 30-40 mph winds.


Strong winds expanded the fire overnight to 60,000 acres, as I-90 was closed from Columbus to Livingston and a Type 1 incident team was sent in. Firefighters on the fire’s swiftly moving north flank were pulled off for their own safety, with forecasts of a storm front moving in.
“We are seeing this year fire activity we’ve never seen before,” McNitt reported Aug. 30. “Drought, wind and higher than normal temperatures are making for unprecedented conditions.”  The next day, 800 residents in Stillwater and Sweet Grass counties, including those in the Limestone and Meyers Creek areas, were evacuated as the fire quickly expanded to 100,000 acres.  At an informational meeting in the Absarokee Elementary School gym that night, McNitt described the previous day’s conditions as “a perfect storm,” with winds reaching 40 mph.  Stillwater County Disaster and Emergency Services Director Ken Mesch said the Derby Fire had moved eight miles in one day. Undersheriff Woody Claunch praised the evacuation efforts of the county’s Search and Rescue team.  “I’ve been on duty 24/7 and I’m adjusting constantly,” Claunch said to an appreciative applause. “I’m running out of gas. So are my men. Please cooperate with them.”


Stacy Schweigel was evacuating 14 horses, four dogs and nine cats from her home at the end of the pavement on Stillwater River Road when she saw the Derby Fire jump the Stillwater River. Former Stillwater County Commissioner Cliff Bare said he left before being told.
“The smoke was so thick, I couldn’t see 30 feet,” he said. “I figured it was time to get out.”
Dave Sample and Bryann Hill were putting out hot spots around the Midnight Canyon bridge over the Stillwater River when the fire suddenly approached. The two men went up and down the road using wet horse blankets to extinguish hot spots. Sample and Hill said they were able to save their homes at the end of Midnight Canyon Road with help of a nearby firefighter crew.
“They were volunteers and did a great job,” Sample said. “The fire captain told me I had just had my house saved by the mayor of Troy.”  On Sept. 1, winds blew the fire north toward Grey Cliff and McLeod, and the fire expanded to 156,000 acres. The Stillwater Mining Co., however, was able to resume operations, and Stillwater residents were allowed to return to their homes the next day.
On Sept. 3, it was reported that 660 firefighters were holding a 120-mile long line around the 165,000-acre fire. The next day, the Derby Fire was reportedly 25 percent contained at 180,000 acres. Three hundred firefighters were mopping up hot spots in the Midnight Canyon and Nye areas the next day.  The smoke and flames along I-90 didn’t stop an estimated 4,000 people from showing up at the 18th annual Sheep Drive event in Reed Point on Sept. 3, where $1,000 in donations were collected for the fire department.


The fire had burned about 223,570 acres, destroyed 26 homes and 20 outbuildings, and was reportedly 90 percent contained by Sept. 21. Forest Service officials said fire suppression efforts became more effective once the Derby Fire left the timber and moved to grasslands.  Several days of rain and cold weather in early October put a definite end to the fire danger. On Oct. 9, six inches of snow lay on the ground in Absarokee, and a winter storm warning was issued on Oct. 11.
The Forest Service pegged the total firefighting cost for the Derby Fire at about $22.5 million. At one point, the Forest Service had six teams assigned to the fire – two Type 1, two Type 2 and two Type 3.  According to the Montana Department of Revenue, 15 houses or cabins that burned in the Derby Fire have been rebuilt – many the very next year. Eleven owners chose not to rebuild, and three owners rebuilt burned outbuildings.  One owner put in a doublewide, and another built a dry cabin instead of a house, the Revenue Department reported. Another owner put in a home where none had existed previously, and a party that bought a burned property has not rebuilt the burned house.

By:  Richard Hanners, SCN Reporter
Courtesy of Stillwater County News

Evacuation Process In Gallatin County

August 22nd, 2016 Emergency Management Duty Officer


Gallatin County utilizes the two step process outlined below in situations where an incident is affecting people.


When ever possible we will provide a warning to those who might be affected by the ongoing incident.  This is typically a law enforcement official who will contact you and make sure you are aware of the current situation.  They will provide you information on the situation and what steps you should be taking.  In many situations you may also receive a phone call or other automated notification in addition to the law enforcement official.

This is your opportunity to figure out what your family’s plan will be if the situation gets worse.  Think along the lines of where you will go and what you would need to take with you.  This is also your notice that you should be paying attention to the incident.  In some cases if you have special needs or can’t leave quickly, you may consider leaving before it gets to the point of being asked to evacuate.

If at any point you feel uncomfortable with the situation, then leave.  Do not wait for someone to tell you to leave if you feel uncomfortable and think you should leave.

Evacuation Order

If the situation gets worse and local officials feel it is unsafe for you to remain, you will be asked to evacuate.  Again, we will make every attempt for a law enforcement officer to contact you and advise you to leave.  Keep in mind that sometimes this becomes challenging, so if you feel uncomfortable – leave.  You will also likely receive a telephone call or other automated notification in addition to the contact by the law enforcement officer.

If asked to leave, you should leave.  However, no one is going to force you to leave.  If you do stay we ask that you stay at your house and not leave.  Many people have been injured and killed after changing their mind and leaving after it is too late.  Waiting and leaving during the incident exposes you to risks that you aren’t expecting and often hinders emergency responders movement while they try to mitigate the incident.  So, if you are going to leave, please leave early.  If you choose not to leave, then stay put.