New DES coordinator planning ahead

By: 
JENNY GESSAMAN
Reporter

Fergus County’s new Disaster and Emergency Coordinator Cathy Barta enjoys the summer sun on Main Street Lewistown Wednesday afternoon.

Photo by Jenny Gessaman

For Cathy Barta, the first week of August was also the first week of a new job as Fergus County’s disaster and emergency services coordinator.

Barta is new to the position, but not to disaster and emergency services: She’s bringing 28 years of experience in the field.

“Twenty-four of the 28 years, I was a wildland firefighter, so I have a background in emergency management with the wildland firefighting,” she said.

Barta’s last four years were spent as an aviation program evaluation specialist with the Department of the Interior. Combined, the two careers were a training ground for a DES coordinator.

“There’s a list of specific trainings you need to apply and administer FEMA grants,” she said. “I’m already compliant with all of those.”

Barta said her first two weeks working for the county has left her confident that she knows what she doesn’t know: a lot.

“There’s a lot to learn, and everyone has been super friendly and willing to help me in this process,” she said. “I’m finding the biggest challenge, if anything, is it’s a large volume of information to absorb initially.”

Barta is starting by reviewing what’s been done, what needs to be done and what needs updating.

“One of this [office’s] strengths, I feel, is the willingness of the community to come forward and work together,” she said. “You have a lot of key players that regularly meet, and that come together as part of the local emergency planning meetings.”

As she familiarizes herself with the job, Barta is developing goals for the office.

“One of the things I foresee is aiming to reach more of the population,” she said. “We have some newer populations that moved into our area; for example, the expanding Amish community around Moore.”

While outreach ensures County emergency plans are relevant, Barta also believes giving residents a voice invests them in the final product. Just as important, she sees local input as a way to confirm plans are real possibilities.

“A perfect example would be the recent large fire in our neighboring counties,” she said. “The people that live there know what works and what doesn’t.”

Although her office is lined with binders she hasn’t yet opened, Barta is excited to tackle her new job with help from the residents of Fergus County.

“I want to reach back out to the entire county and ask for feedback,” she said.

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