By Stephen Smoot
Last week, the county’s Local Emergency Planning Committee, or LEPC, held a meeting at AGK Restaurant in Franklin.
According to the West Virginia Emergency Management website, LEPCs develop emergency response planning. For many areas, emergency planning focuses on developing a plan of response to chemical spills. They “must develop an emergency response plan, review the plan at least annually, and provide information about chemicals in the community to citizens.” Plans are made with the assistance of appropriate community stakeholders.
At the opening of the meeting Bruce Minor, president of the committee, updated the group on “tabletop exercises.” This planning and information event took place at the community building immediately prior to the LEPC meeting. Minor explained that “it went very well. We got food for thought.”
While Pendleton County does not have a major chemical industry, as Kanawha County enjoys, the LEPC creates plans to encompass local storage tanks. Minor explained that agencies must try to identify all tanks in the region that fall under their purview, as well as those that might lie in areas covered by mutual aid. “If someone has chemicals and has not reported, talk to them,” he said.
Minor went on to say that “fire departments and EMS need to know what they are walking into.”
Diane Mitchell, representing Pendleton County 911, asked, “does that include farmers?” Minor answered, “it does if they have chemicals.”
Frank Wehrle, Town of Franklin administrator, added that they self-reported even though they knew that their storage tanks did not require it under the law. Communication towers also fall under reporting guidelines due to batteries containing sulfuric acid.
Minor also updated the group on Greer Lime Company developing a trained rescue team for its own operations in the North Fork area. He said that the group has specialized training for “underground operations,” but was “not sure how far they are advanced now.
Rick Gillespie, Pendleton County emergency management coordinator, gave an update on ongoing attempts to install a tower near Seneca Rocks. He said that “we have a willing landowner for the tower near Seneca Rocks.” The land, however, is under a timber easement that restricts removal of trees. A suitable spot lying relatively an “infinitesimal” distance away on the map, however, only allows a tower there to operate with significantly reduced capability. He added that he met with both Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito by phone to discuss the problem.
The main issue lies in restrictions imposed by the National Radio Quiet Zone that encompasses parts of Pendleton and Pocahontas counties. It protects sensitive government facilities from electronic “noise” that could interfere with operations. Gillespie says that similar facilities around the world do not require a Quiet Zone to operate.
Additionally, he explained that when implemented in 1958 that the zone’s designers would have no concept of the future of communications, nor how much emergency services would rely on electronic and digital equipment to coordinate responses and provide first rate care. “We can’t continue to move forward in the future,” Gillespie said, “if that continues to choke us down.”
The group also discussed the National LEPC conference to be held at the end of next month in Canaan Valley. Part of the program will cover pipeline emergency response. Minor said that the event served as a good opportunity for local officials to learn more and added, “it’s like a lot of meetings. You do more after the meetings end.”
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