Local first responders discuss ways  to utilize Homeland Security Grant

By Megan R. Harrell
Star Staff

   Carter County recently learned it will receive $20,000 as part of the Homeland Security Grant. The deadline for submitting equipment requests to the state is March 15, and the county has a variety of places where it could use the funds.
   The Emergency Services Committee met Thursday night to present their wish lists to the Elizabethton/Carter County Emergency Management Agency Director Jim Burrough. First responders cited additional radio communication frequencies as their largest need. "I think we need to look at the past to see where our biggest weaknesses were, and that was in communications," Chief Deputy James Parrish said. "We do not have enough repeaters and frequencies."
   The county is limited to what it can purchase with the federal grant. The four authorized equipment categories local first responders can choose from are personal protective equipment; chemical, biological, or radiological detection equipment; decontamination equipment, and communication equipment. Local emergency first responders are focusing on personal protective equipment as a first priority.
   The Homeland Security funds are one portion of over 20 billion dollars 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. The county will receive two sub-grants in the amounts of $10,000 each from the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) under the Office for Domestic Preparedness Equipment Program.
   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.
   Burrough is optimistic about future federal grants to beef up the county's emergency response equipment. "This year we had $19.5 billion. Next year $37.7 billion is proposed for Homeland Security, so there is going to be more money coming," Burrough said.
   A new committee made up of local first responders, health care providers, safety managers and local professionals is helping to pinpoint which areas need the federal money the most. The Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) will meet for the first time next week. The agency is mandated by federal and state governments and hopes to provide the community with a centralized committee that ensures public safety.
   One of the first actions of the LEPC was to assess the community's emergency response needs. The committee asked respondents to provide information on the number of people in the organization that had or needed specialized training in emergency situations. They also asked respondents to specify some of their most urgent needs. The respondents were made up of local first responders including police departments, fire departments, and rescue squads.
   Many of the respondents cited needs for equipment that is within TEMA authorization. Encapsulated suits to handle chemicals, portable repeaters, and a cascade unit were some of the needs that could be purchased with the grant money.
   The Emergency Services Committee will meet again after the LEPC's first meeting to further discuss utilization of the federal grant. The LEPC will meet Feb. 12 at the Carter County Health Center, 403 East G St., Elizabethton, from 9-11 a.m. The public is invited to attend.