No red flags were raised in response to Warren County Emergency Management’s annual report submitted Tuesday to Warren Fiscal Court. But the use of red (and yellow) flags might have contributed to numbers that were surprising only because of an unexpected downward trend in a county where population figures are heading upward.

Emergency Management Director Ronnie Pearson submitted a report showing a 28 percent reduction in total response calls in a year’s time. That drop – from 446 responses in 2018 to 321 last year – included a 75 percent reduction in water rescue calls and a 63 percent drop in missing person calls, figures that Pearson believes can be chalked up to a couple of factors.

In the case of the water rescues, those red and yellow flags could deserve the credit.

The use of such flags to warn of dangerously swift or deep water, implemented in 2017 and upgraded with the use of U.S. Geological Survey data in 2018, might finally be having an impact, Pearson reasons.

“The flag system may be part of their decision-making process,” Pearson said of canoe and kayak enthusiasts. “I think water recreationists may be paying a little more attention to water levels when deciding when or where to participate in those activities.”

Pearson also speculated that a beefed-up law enforcement presence and an increased use of signs in Warren County parks might have contributed to the drop in water rescues.

As for the reduction in missing person calls, Pearson believes technology might play a role, particularly with the elderly population.

“The use of technology helps,” Pearson said, “particularly with those persons with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. There are devices out there that allow you to track where a person is when they walk away, so we never get a report.”

Pearson was also pleased to see a downward trend in accidents involving hazardous chemicals, which he says might be a result of trucking companies and their drivers taking more precautions.

“A lot of drivers are carrying absorbent pads that can be used to mitigate the release of diesel fuel or other chemicals into the environment,” he said. “A spill can be cleaned up without any notification.”

The annual report did reveal a 10 percent increase in weather-related incidents, something Pearson believes can be reduced by paying better attention to news reports and better utilizing available technology.

“The weather incidents can be related to heat, cold, flooding or other severe weather,” he said. “News outlets are doing a better job of predicting when these may come, and that should allow us to better prepare.”

The drop in emergency response calls also contributed to a 3.6 percent reduction in the county’s emergency management budget, from $268,432.73 in 2018 to $259,279.91 last year.

Pearson is content with a shrinking budget, as long as it comes with a continued drop in emergency responses.

“The fewer incidents we have, the less likelihood there is that someone’s life has been disrupted,” he said. “I hope the trend continues into 2020.”

– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.

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