Southwest Incident Support Team launches to help with emergencies

Published: Oct. 18, 2022 at 10:19 PM CDT
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LAWTON, Okla. (KSWO) - A program that extends to 17 counties is launching to help emergency management agencies across southwest Oklahoma deal with crises.

It includes Comanche, Caddo, Grady, Jackson, Tillman and Stephens counties and more.

The group is called the Southwest Incident Support Team or SWIST, and 24 partners who have experience in emergency management have joined to assist others in the area when there’s a natural disaster, like a wildfire or tornado. It’s all about saving lives and property.

Comanche County-Lawton Emergency Management Director Clint Langford and his team recently joined SWIST.

He said they’ve already called on SWIST twice in the last couple months -- for the Highway 115/Meers fire and the Highway 58 fire.

“When you start looking at what’s the help for the support agency like emergency management, we’re there in the background to help support the first responders,” Langford said. “This team is actually our support entity. They come in and give us the support and the backbone to do our jobs.”

When a crew is sent to help with an emergency, they’ll stay for up to 72 hours and then alternate groups if necessary. They assist with whatever needs to be done.

Caddo Nation’s Deputy Emergency Manager Jerome McCalvin went to the state’s eastern border with a crew to help with recovery following a tornado.

“The deployment group, it’s all about issues,” McCalvin said. “They know that there’s not going to be any pay. It could be long hours. You don’t know what situations you’re going to be in, but everyone, their willingness from the heart to go, ‘Hey, it’s a fellow Oklahoman.’ We go do what we can do.”

Retired Emergency Management Director Kevin Rhodes got the idea for SWIST when a fire burned 35,000 acres and destroyed 13 homes in the Meers area more than a decade ago.

“If we could take emergency managers from unaffected areas and say, ‘Hey, emergency management director, we’re here. We’ll be in your back pocket. We’ll do what you need us to do. You don’t have to worry about that.’ That helps that guy facilitate all of his problems away,” Rhodes said.

The key to SWIST is that it’s made up of experienced people who have worked in emergency management.

“We come together to support -- that’s the whole idea is to bring knowledgeable people of their different specialties, we’ll call them, and they’re able to do that for that local director that’s just overwhelmed most of the time, with whatever disaster it is,” Rhodes said.

The partners will meet in-person for the first time next month for training in Caddo County and Grady County.