Colston holds certification as a CERT trainer and teaches terrorism and suicide bomber awareness classes. He can also prepare responders in incident command systems and is qualified to offer the CLEET hours needed by law enforcement officers.
Citing the four pillars of emergency management - preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation, Colston said, “My goal is to introduce the plan for and prepare for natural and man-made disasters, because it is not a matter of ‘if' a disaster is going to occur; it's a matter of ‘when' that disaster is going to occur.
“We can never be disaster proof, but we can become disaster resilient. Therefore, the citizens would be best served if they would take some responsibility for their own survival in a disaster. Obviously, I can't hold your hand, my wife's hand, Suzie or Bill's hand, during a disaster; I'll be engaged doing other things. If citizens can get prepared for 72 hours, I will work very hard so they won't have to go through 73.”
Colston encourages every citizen to first identify the potential hazards - earthquakes, wildfires, floods, severe thunderstorms, tornadoes and hazardous materials spills from wrecks on highways, railways or in airplane crashes), to write a plan based on the possible hazards and then build a kit to support the plan. Check the Internet at fema.gov/areyouready for information on identifying hazards and call 800-480-2520 to order the free booklet, “Are You Ready.”
He does not recommend buying a kit with the thought that the kit would take care of every need during a disaster. Individuals might require backup eyeglasses, medications for 72 hours and other personalized items. “What I want the citizens to do is write a plan-what will they do during the disaster. I am willing to help if they call me (482-8336). I will look at the plan and give ideas that maybe they haven't thought about,” Colston said.
Colston belongs to the Oklahoma Disaster Medical Assistance Team, a federal team under Health and Human Services, and the Medical Reserve Corps, a state resource also under Health and Human Services. Colston is a proponent of team building in such groups as Boy Scouts, churches and Red Cross, because he has seen teams work well in emergencies.
“Churches and civic groups make the logical CERT teams-first, to plan and prepare a kit for yourself and for your church or civic group, then after the disaster, to help neighbors,” he said. “CERT teaches how to rely on yourself during a disaster and how to rely on your CERT-team member. I really, really want to focus on disaster resilience.”
Colston will announce times for his 20-hour free training course or citizens may call 482-8336 to schedule a class. Participants will receive a state badge as a CERT team member and also qualify for government-funded deployments to assist local governments in disaster recovery.
“I'm not trying to be an alarmist, but I came from a community that was not disaster prone,” Colston said. “Since I became emergency manager in Mayes County in 1998, we had four federally-declared disasters--an ice storm in 2000, a wildfire, a second ice storm in 2007 and currently flooding.”
Because Altus is already a storm-ready community, the city engages with the National Weather Service as a partner, rather than waiting for the disaster to happen. Storm-ready communities must have an Emergency Operations Center and three different methods of receiving weather warnings. The city of Altus has equipped the EOC with six ways-automatic weather warnings on a printer, radio, communication radios, television, cell phone with text-messaging capabilities and Internet. A storm-ready team evaluated the Altus operation and documented the personnel training.
An example of flooding mitigation to keep Altus disaster resilient lies in the construction of detention ponds and efforts to keep drainage grates free from clogging with debris.
Colston operates under the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the State Emergency Management Office. “I will tell the citizens that, if you are prepared for tornadoes, you're prepared for terrorism,” he said. “All the terrorist events that have ever occurred are typically smaller than our Oklahoma tornadoes in scope. If you look at a suicide bomber attack in Baghdad--a few square blocks at the most, maybe a city block--and we've got tornadoes bigger than that in Oklahoma. Oklahoma was the home for at least one terrorist attack; it impacted two to four city blocks. There is a saying in emergency management, ‘All disasters are local.'”
If a disaster occurs in Altus, local personnel will decide what to do about the disaster. “I going to do my best to guide the decision process, but the disaster starts with one piece of paper, called an emergency declaration, and it ends when all the paper work is done and all the checks are written,” Colston said, “but there is more to it than getting checks.”
Colston was born in McAlester and lived his first three years in Wilburton. He graduated in the Hobart High School class of 1970 and attended Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, where he hosted a weekly college radio news magazine, an interview talk show about events related to Tahlequah. He graduated in 1974 with majors in speech and journalism and the same year married Judy Troyer of Mayes County. The couple has a son who lives near Tahlequah and a daughter who resides in Missouri.
Because jobs were scarce during the recession of the early 1970s, Colston returned to Hobart and managed the movie theater and a theater chain until 1975, when he accepted a job with the “Weatherford Daily News.” In 1976, he moved to Pryor to be near Judy's parents and worked for the weekly, “The Pryor Jeffersonian.” He subsequently purchased and operated the weekly, “South Grand Laker.”
He sold the newspaper in 1981 and became an Emergency Medical Technician and an EMT instructor at the Pryor technology center, which launched a 26-year career as a medical social worker with the Department of Human Services. He primarily determined eligibility for the Aid for Dependent Children program, food stamps and Medicaid and helped find ways to assist the ineligible.
“I've always been interested in emergency management, so after growing up in Tornado Alley in the 1970s, it was a logical conclusion that when I retired I'd be an emergency manager somewhere,” Colston said. “So, from 1998 forward, I was a county emergency manager for Mayes County and now I look forward to working with the people of Altus.”