When a disaster strikes, we want emergency services to be there as fast as humanly possible. We want to know the people who arrive on scene are properly trained to the highest standard and that they can quickly communicate and coordinate with other city and county departments and agencies.
It's Christine Westrich's job to make sure all the pieces of Milwaukee County's emergency response puzzle fit together. Westrich is a former Marine Corps aviator, a trained illustrator, and for the past four years, she's been the director of Milwaukee County's Office of Emergency Management, or OEM.
OEM was created in 2015 by combining operations from the county’s Department of Health & Human Services, the Sheriff's Office, and the Information Management Services Department.
That's a lot of coordination across multiple agencies. Westrich says coordination and communication is fundamental to ensure proper and effective emergency response throughout the county.
"Our mission is helping people in extraordinary times," she says. "And a big part of that is ensuring everyone is talking to each other. The term is interoperability, which just means that inter-agency, everybody can operate together as one universal force."
An example of the kind of oversight OEM provides, Westrich points to the over 550 paramedics in Milwaukee County. It's OEM's job to oversee all of them.
"OEM is responsible for the training, the education, continuing ed, and really the regulatory standards that they follow," Westrich explains. "So when a citizen gets into an ambulance anywhere in Milwaukee County, they’re going to get the same care whether you’re in the north shore, in Cudahy, or in Greenfield."
Funding is always an issue, Westrich says, and municipalities, the county, and the state are all feeling the pinch of fewer dollars. She says everyone is looking at their tax levy and thinking about how they can help government do better with less money.
"That's forcing us to share resources," Westrich says. "Let's take down our walls, lets's take down these boundaries, and see how we can help each other across that dotted line on the map."