County to allocate federal emergency funds

By Megan R. Harrell

STAR STAFF

   Carter County could reap benefits from a federal Homeland Security Grant within the next two months. Gov. Don Sundquist announced last week that every county in Tennessee would receive grant money to beef up terrorism response resources.
   The homeland security funds are part of over $20 billion the federal government allocated to combat terrorism. The funds were dispersed to six different areas of concern including the Pentagon, bio-terrorism, the disaster areas in New York and Pennsylvania, state and local health departments, and to stockpile drugs and vaccines. Nearly $8.3 billion of the money went towards homeland security.
   "We are very pleased with the appropriation of funds because with the budget the way it is in Tennessee, we do not have a lot of money to do anything with unless the General Assembly does something about it," said Tennessee's Director of Homeland Security, Wendell Gilbert.
   Gilbert stated that his office worked with all counties in Tennessee to analyze the state's situation. The state compiled information on its status of security and sent it to Washington, where it was answered with the recent Homeland Security Grant.
   Gilbert stated that if counties request emergency equipment that is in stock, they could begin to receive it as soon as one to two months from now. All counties will have to work with TEMA to place orders.
   Counties will be limited as to what they can purchase with the funds. "The federal government has prescribed what can be bought with the grant money and will supervise the purchase of items," Gilbert said.
   In years past, counties had to apply for emergency management funds. This year, with the nearly $3 million the state received in federal Homeland Security Grants, all counties are guaranteed some funds. However, some counties will receive more than others depending on their populations. "We look at where the greatest threat would be so more urban areas would receive more funds, but everyone will receive at least $10,000 to purchase emergency equipment, increase training, and communication systems," Gilbert said.
   Carter County requested grant money last year for emergency management and did not qualify. Only nine counties with a population of 100,000 or more received grant funds last year. "We qualified this year and there is a big need for a lot of things in this county. We are not really equipped to defend against any weapons of mass destruction," said Carter County/Elizabethton Emergency Management Director James Burrough.
   In December, the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) mailed questionnaires to all emergency response organizations in the area. The questionnaires were designed to help the committee pinpoint local emergency response organizations' needs.
   The needs of emergency services vary across Carter County. The fire department is in need of breathing apparatuses. All emergency services requested more training for their workers, and more two-way communication devises are also needed. Emergency services also cited a need for an earlier warning system for the entire county.
   Carter County is ill-equipped for potential emergencies that surround it. Carter County is neighbor to Unicoi County that houses a nuclear facility, and nuclear chemicals are transported through Carter County on its railroad system. There is also a weapons ammunition plant in Sullivan County.
   County emergency response organizations have no emergency suites that can withstand chemical contamination. A hazardous waste team from Washington County responds to all of Carter County's radioactive contaminations as part of a mutual aid agreement.
   Burrough stated that the county does not know exactly what it will use the federal funds for, but that the decision would be made as part of a joint effort between his office and the Emergency Services Committee.
   "We are going to take the money and do the best we can with it, and make it go as far as we can," Burrough said. "The decisions as to where it will go will be made by the Emergency Service Committee."