The key to effectively responding to a countywide disaster is coordinated emergency preparedness, says Utah County Commissioner Brent Morris.

To better prepare the county's emergency response ability - something Morris said is overdue in Utah County - the County Commission is organizing a countywide emergency management council. It's time the county quit responding "by the seat of our pants" and prepare governmental entities for coordinated emergency action, he said.Morris said individual government entities may be ready for smaller emergencies, but they're not prepared to respond in an efficient, organized, teamlike manner to a large disaster.

"The whole idea is that the county government, by state statute, is responsible for emergency preparedness," he said. "But we usually get so busy with the day-to-day running of the government that we don't get an organization in place."

Morris said the council will provide the leadership needed to prepare the county for disaster response. The council will be seated and begin developing preparedness measures within the next couple of months, an idea warmly welcomed last week by the Utah County Council of Governments.

"Hopefully, within 12 months . . . we'll be in a posture to respond countywide to any emergency," including such possible disasters as nuclear war, earthquake and flooding, he said. Morris said the county has received a lot of help so far in emergency preparedness from Sheriff's Department Lt. Gary Clayton.

Commissioners are still drawing up a list of council participants, but tentative members include municipal leaders, heads of local corporations, health officials, law enforcement officers, fire officials, county and state officials, and local religious leaders, including the LDS Church's regional representative.

In addition, the council likely will include representatives from Brigham Young University, the Red Cross, the county's three school districts, Uinta National Forest, the county's four hospitals and United Way.

Disasters may occur only sporadically, but county leaders don't want to learn the hard way that they must be prepared for emergencies.

"I think citizens will feel good knowing that such an organization is in place," Morris said. "It's kind of like insurance."

With proper preparation and coordination, he said, the county will be able to minimize loss of life and property when a disaster strikes.

Coordination is essential to emergency management council success, Morris said. And "coordination is dependent on the individuals who are the representatives on this council."

As part of countywide emergency preparedness efforts, communication lines will be established that are not dependent on electricity, and a procedure will be developed to advise people where to meet and where to get needed items such as sandbags, tools or equipment.

Morris said officials are looking for a central location where those items can be stored, along with tents, blankets, candles and possibly food. The county already has some needed items, as well as two storage buildings near the Lindon landfill.

"We need a facility so that if we have a large disaster . . . people will know that's where they need to go."

One of the emergency council's first duties will be to look for funding needed to finance preparation efforts.

"This will be a touchy one because of the shortage of tax dollars," Morris said. "But to achieve our objectives, we need to have a funding source."

Another challenge facing the council will be educating the public and convincing people to prepare themselves for emergencies.

"I think the citizens of this county will feel confident knowing there's a program in place in order to minimize any fears they may have," Morris said.