Summit County’s worrier-in-chief takes emergency management seriously

Breeana Laughlin
Emergency management director Joel Cochran has a plan for disaster relief in Summit County.
Breeana Laughlin | Summit Daily

It’s unlikely that any of Joel Cochran’s colleagues would tell him to look on the bright side. His job position requires him to look at any and every scenario that might go wrong in Summit County — and put a plan in place to fix it.

Prevention is a big part of Cochran’s job position. The emergency management director must identify a plethora of possible hazards, work with partners to develop prevention strategies and have a plan of action in place in case a hazard does occur.

“Since you can’t predict what’s going to happen, you have to think about all the complexities,” Cochran said. “It’s not as simple as putting a road back up or rebuilding a home. There are a lot of impacts when a family is displaced.”

In the event of a catastrophe in Summit County, the emergency management director would serve as the bridge between the incident command center and disaster recovery effort.

“I might be the person that ends up ordering a state engine, or mutual aide ambulances, or more law enforcement officers for the sheriff or local agencies,” Cochran said during a presentation of the Forest Health Task Force on Wednesday evening.

Cochran has dozens of partnerships he can plug into to provide relief after a disaster, in fields ranging from transportation and utilities, to fire and hazardous materials.

Immediate assistance involves relief from the Red Cross and county governments. If an emergency is big enough, a disaster assistance center is set up, Cochran said. The center provides shelter and other resources for people who have been displaced, as well as case management for clients.

“We try to link up people who have needs with the people that are providing disaster assistance,” Cochran said.

Long-term recovery from a disaster could involve bringing in professionals in crisis counseling, legal services, medical benefits, the IRS, child care, disaster unemployment and natural and cultural services.

Cochran said the face of emergency relief is changing from the infamous Hurricane Katrina aftermath, largely because of FEMA’s current head, William Craig Fugate. FEMA’s website reports under Fugate’s leadership, emergency management has been promoted as a community responsibility.

Instead of encouraging business owners and residents to pack up and leave and never come back, Cochran said it’s better to work with community members to revitalize an area after a disaster. For instance, he said it’s a better idea to help local businesses, such as grocery and hardware stores, provide resources like ice and tarps to the community — rather than bring them from outside sources.

“It is a complicated world, and if you approach things in a top-down model — which was really the guidance up until the past five or six years — you miss these conversations,” Cochran said.

Cochran said he works to collaborate with community members to prepare and plan for emergency situations.

“I’m out talking to businesses, asking ‘If we have a disaster, what could you do to your business model to stay in business and what help could I give you to make that happen,’” he said. “That’s better than saying board this place up and leave.”

The emergency management director is seeking public priorities and concerns about potential hazards in Summit County for the hazard mitigation plan through July 31. Comments can be sent to

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