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Flathead County has a coronavirus incident command team

Posted at 4:26 PM, Apr 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-21 20:46:06-04

KALISPELL — For eight hours a day, seven days a week, 23 people from diverse backgrounds work together assessing the next steps of the coronavirus on Flathead County's Incident Command Center.

The incident command team is located at Flathead County's 911 center in Kalispell.

Flathead County public health officer Hillary Hanson is one of those 20, and explained to MTN how working together makes the team stronger.

People on the team come from emergency service, fire management and public health backgrounds.

"The folks that are really good at responding to emergencies and it's a really routine part of what they do," said Hanson. "Those emergency services folks, and the fire folks have really been able to help us hone in on what activities we should be doing and what everybody's role is."

Hanson says incident command establishes order and designates certain tasks to specific people. The team works on issues like personal protective equipment shortages and identifying community spread of the virus.

Area fire manager Lincoln Chute said that while the principals of the coronavirus incident command structure are similar to command structure of responding to wildfires, though this virus itself is very different.

"When you're with the COVID, you don't have as much information as you'd like to have," said Chute. "That's probably the most difficult about this event versus a fire. And the only thing with a fire is that you have your background and experience to pull from."

He says this is where expertise in various fields helps.

"That's where we're really leaning on the public health people to try to do the best of their ability to give us that input," Chute said.

Hanson told MTN that to keep everyone healthy the team works in two shifts, switching off every week.

"If somebody got ill, what would happen is that it would just effect that one team," said Hanson.

While they're in the command center, everyone practices social distancing. Hanson says people sit in every other chair and sanitize their area after each use.

Hanson explained that incident command will continue through different government directives and phased re-opening.

She hopes incident command will be a resource for businesses who have questions during the phased re-opening and that command structure will be in place when new cases arise.