Elfer passes first test with flying colors

Published 10:02 pm Saturday, September 8, 2012

If emergency responders were honored in the same vein as professional athletes, Warren County Emergency Management Agency Director John Elfer would be a shoo-in for rookie of the year.

Hurricane Isaac, which was a tropical storm by the time it got to Warren County, was Elfer’s first true test since he was narrowly hired by the Warren County Board of Supervisors in June 2011. After watching him in action, we find it hard to believe anyone else could have performed better.

His addresses to the public were pertinent and well-timed. When questions were raised, he had answers, and even better, he had plans. His style of management was impeccable.

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Elfer is the first to say that he was successful only because of the men and women surrounding him. Last week, Elfer said, “We executed well. Mainly, because we had everybody buy in. If you don’t have buy-in, you don’t have anything.”

It is easy to succumb to fear and reject rational ideas when doom is approaching in one of nature’s deadliest forms. It takes a true leader to quell those fears and convince everyone around him that the proverbial sky is not falling, even when trees and power lines are.

We had the opportunity to watch Elfer work, and his efficacy and organization would impress even the most meticulous of Washington bureaucrats.

Each day during the storm, he presented city and county leaders with slideshows and posters of weather information, command objectives and plans of action.

The military-style efficiency and overt sense of calm seemed to come naturally to Elfer, who spent nine years in the Mississippi National Guard military police and even longer as a Warren County deputy. As a guardsman, Elfer had the opportunity to learn from his time in Iraq and responding to Hurricane Katrina.

That learning continues, and Elfer and city and county stakeholders are analyzing the response to Isaac in order to be prepared for future emergencies. There’s always room for improvement, but it’s hard for us to fathom that it could go any more smoothly.