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Unified Command streamlines COVID-19 response, establishes hotline

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Gilliam, Sherman and Wasco counties collaborate in fight against Coronavirus

A Unified Command to better respond to COVID-19 was established for Sherman, Gilliam and Wasco counties in early March.

The Unified Command streamlines contact between the North Central Public Health Department, Mid-Columbia Fire and Rescue, Sherman County and Gilliam County.

Daily calls with public information officers from Gilliam, Sherman and Wasco counties and weekly calls with the larger Unified Command team are being held to coordinate efforts.

Stephanie Krell is the Office Manager of Administrative Services for Wasco County. At least that was her primary role before the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, she is the lead for public information officers (PIO) at Unified Command and serves as the Unified Command public relations officer.

There are three public information officers, one for each county.

“It isn’t like a fire. You kinda know what a fire will do and its behaviors. Nobody knows the behavior of this.” – Shawn Payne, Sherman County Director of Emergency Services

Gilliam County Emergency Management Coordinator Chris Fitzsimmons serves as the PIO for Gilliam County. Mrs. Fitzsimmons plans and coordinates emergency operations for Gilliam County and is a liaison and consultant to county government in areas of emergency management.

Shaun Payne is the Emergency Management Coordinator for Sherman County. Mrs. Payne says that the Unified Command is new to everybody that is involved but says it is serving an important function.

Mrs. Payne also leads Sherman County’s ambulatory and emergency response team and had to miss a call with Unified Command because of an ambulance call. It has been taxing and time intensive for counties that already have few employees and staff dedicated to emergency response.

“It isn’t like a fire. You kinda know what a fire will do and its behaviors. Nobody knows the behavior of this,” said Mrs Payne.

In addition to the public information officers, elected officials are also working hard and are on multiple conference calls each week. The multi-agency calls between elected officials includes Judge Elizabeth Farrar of Gilliam County and Judge Dabulskis of Sherman County. Mrs. Krell of Wasco County says that any information that is shared with the wider Unified Command gets directly sent to Judge Farrar and Jude Dabulskis and it is required that the Judges present in the Command meetings.

The Unified Command also brings a Joint Information Center, which will share information and guidance with area residents who call the COVID-19 Hotline at (541) 464-6550.

The Joint Information Center is open from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., seven days a week.

Recently, Unified Command created a website and also posts regular updates on Facebook.

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