John Ball
John Ball, a Central New York native and former interim Madison County sheriff, recently joined the Hamilton Emergency Response Team as emergency manager. Here he talks about his background, his new position, and tips for preparing for an emergency.
What is your background in energy and emergency management?

I’ve been in the public safety field since 1981 in multiple forms and fashions. When I was honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy, I went to work for Onondaga County. I was there for 18 years, first with the county medical examiner’s office. It also brought me into some federal programs dealing with national disaster response, large-scale emergencies, plane crashes, flooding, tornadoes, those types of things. Later, I moved from that position to the administrator of the Onondaga County Correctional Facility … for 13 years. I was also co-chair of the Urban Area Security Initiative for the Central New York region. Our role was to look at vulnerabilities as a region across all areas — infrastructure, technology, physical. And this region did very well. It was ranked in the top five in the country, so that was a huge accomplishment.

Tell us about your role at Hamilton.

My direct role here with the campus is really as an advisor to HERT, which is the Hamilton Emergency Response Team, made up of senior staff on campus. I advise them on how the campus not only internally looks at incident response and management [but also] how the campus interacts and coordinates with response organizations. They come in to assist us, and I act as the liaison between HERT and the campus and those agencies. We review plans together to make sure that we get everybody on the same page. … It’s just good communication. It’s being good partners.

Can you speak more about preparedness and motivation?

With law enforcement, you know, you’ve got to be there. You’ve got to be at your very best when everybody else is having their very worst day. ... The campus does have people here that really care and put an incredible amount of effort in every hour of every day to make sure that the campus remains not only safe but sound. Structurally sound and physically sound. It’s always going to be a battle, but those are the things that we have to look at. The weather is our biggest vulnerability here in Upstate New York, and the campus just last week was awarded a Storm Ready designation that not many campuses in this country have. And only three in New York do. That’s where my role comes in. During those types of events, I’m working closely with the National Weather Service, and I’m putting that information out. And HERT is turning it around and we’re making this information rapidly accessible to everybody here. It’s just so they know what’s going on because we all have an obligation to take care of ourselves.

You can’t make things better until we know what’s wrong. There’s a term called AAR or an After-Action Review. We do these frequently here at Hamilton because …we need to really be introspective. We look at what went well and what could have gone better. It’s important to be honest. It's important to go in with an open mind.

What advice do you have for members of the Hamilton community to prepare for and react in an emergency?

Always take the time to know what to do when something goes wrong, know how to get help. Don't be afraid to ask for help. And it really takes every single one of us to make HERT, not just Hamilton, but the greater community that we’re in. … If you see something, say something. If you see something out of place, it’s probably out of place. Go with your gut.

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