Emergency Planning Committee holds first meeting

By Megan R. Harrell

Star Staff

   Carter County is no stranger to disaster. The North American Rayon fire and the flood of 1998 are some of the more recent disasters the area has come through. Local emergency responders worked together to bring the community through these disasters, and now they are members of a new committee that will help to prepare for emergencies in the future.
   Representatives from area emergency response services were present at the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) meeting Tuesday morning. The LEPC's inaugural meeting was held at the Carter County Health Center's Truman Clark Annex, and speakers from a variety of emergency response agencies outlined the services their companies provide.
   Speakers included representatives from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Washington County Hazmat Response Team, HEPCO Environmental Service and Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. The invited speakers provided the LEPC with valuable information on ways to respond to emergency situations.
   Washington County brought its command modual to the LEPC meeting to show its neighboring county its capabilities to contain chemical spills. Carter County emergency response organizations have no emergency suites that can withstand chemical contamination. The command modual and hazardous waste team from Washington County responds to all of Carter County's radioactive contaminations as part of a mutual aid agreement.
   Mark Scott, a representative with HEPCO and a member of the Johnson City Fire Department, responded to the North American Rayon fire in Carter County. He believes that the way to prepare for future emergencies is through training. "The only way you can really respond well to emergencies is to practice, have exercises, and you must have a viable committee," Scott said.
   Training is exactly where LEPC Chairman Bob Robinson tends to lead the committee. A survey completed by local emergency agencies showed that 61 percent of those surveyed requested additional training for their first responders. "This is not in any way a negative reflection on local emergency services personnel," Robinson said. "Training is an ongoing process that you can never stop."
   The LEPC is made up of local emergency service, business, and city/county and government representatives. Its main objective is to make the community more prepared to handle emergency situations. "The LEPC's focus is on making not only the community safer, but making it safer for first responder personnel," Robinson said.
   The state mandated that local governments form a LEPC in 1986 as part of the Community Right-to-Know Act. The Elizabethton/Carter County LEPC's by-laws state that it must develop an emergency response plan for the area, develop a procedure for facilities to provide notification to them, develop a procedure for receiving and processing requests for public information, provide an annual Notice of Public Availability of inventory reports, and to implement all orders and activities required by the Federal Government or the State Emergency Response Commission (SERC).
   The formation of the Elizabethton/Carter County LEPC is crucial to the area's chances of receiving state and federal grants. Carter County requested grant money last year for emergency management, but did not qualify, because it lacked the organization that the LEPC now offers. This year, Carter County will receive $20,000 as part of the Homeland Security Grant. The homeland security funds are one portion of over 20 billion dollars the federal government allocated to combat terrorism.