June/July 2013 Issue
Disaster Preparedness in Your County
By Timna Rutledge
In light of heightened tornado activity throughout mid-western states and the recent catastrophe in the town of West, Texas, many counties are taking a closer look at their emergency management plans. In addition, a number of citizens are wondering how well prepared their communities are; and what steps can the People take to prepare themselves in case of an event.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires every Texas County to have a Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) to focus discussions on hazardous substance emergency planning. In addition, all counties must file emergency management plans with the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). These plans are updated at the county level as, needed, and are subject to mandatory review every five years by the State.
The question is, how well prepared are Kaufman, Rains and Van Zandt Counties? Until recently, some were unfamiliar with certain requirements. While Van Zandt County Fire Marshal and Emergency Management Coordinator Chuck Allen had an Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) in place, he had no knowledge of the need for an LEPC. “It was brought to my attention after the West explosion,” stated Allen, “that we were mandated to have an LEPC. However, when I received the (LEPC membership) list, somehow (unbeknownst to him previously), I was designated as the Chairman. There were multiple people on the list that were deceased or no longer in the County. That list is being revamped currently, and will be submitted to the State for approval.” Allen has recommended to County Judge Rita Koches, professionals in fire fighting, law enforcement, EMS, public health and public works to serve as members on the LEPC.
Allen explained that County Judges are the “Ultimate Director” of County emergency management. In the event of a disaster, a City Mayor, for instance, would need to appeal to the County Judge for relief. The County Judge may then request aid from the Governor’s office; and the Governor may request assistance from FEMA or the President of the United States.
Kaufman County Emergency Management Coordinator Steve Howie, also serves as the County’s LEPC Chairman. When asked how many chemical companies were in Kaufman County, Howie said that there were 102 such facilities. Though most cities fall under the Kaufman County Emergency Management Plans (EMP), the City of Terrell has its own EMP.
To prep for an emergency situation, Howie recommended, “Each resident should be prepared to be self sufficient for at least 72 hours after a disaster and have a kit containing water, food, flashlights, batteries, first aid supplies, and tools with which to cut off gas and water.”
Rains County Emergency Management Coordinator (EMC) Harold Carr said, “I do encourage citizens to have home emergency and evacuation plans.” He publishes suggestions through his column in the Rains County Leader.
Carr also stated, “Rains County does not have any chemical facilities, as such. The County does have a fertilizer distribution point, Potts Feed, in Emory. It operates as a limited holding facility, dispensing most of the product, much like “JIT” in industry. There are several propane storage and distribution facilities in the County. There are no plating or metal stripping operations in the County to my knowledge.”
“Rains County Fire Departments are all VFDs (Volunteer Fire Departments)” he continued, “and do not have the responsibility for inspections of residences or businesses. Senior qualified members will do inspections upon request. The VFDs do not have responsibility of oversight of fertilizer and chemical operations.” Of course, this begs more questions that will have to be addressed in a future article, such as, “Who does have the authority and responsibility of investigating said businesses?”.
Of Van Zandt County’s chemical facilities, Allen said that there are no ammonium nitrate storage facilities, like what caused the explosion in West. He explained that there are many pipelines that run all throughout the County. What runs through them? H2S gas (Hydrogen Sulfide), natural gas and oil. There are also two compressor stations, which used to be refineries, located at State Highway 19 and SH80, and at County Road 3204 in Myrtle Springs.
For citizens to receive critical alerts for evacuation notices, bio-terrorism alerts, boil water notices, and missing child reports, Allen suggested County residents sign up at www.vanzandtcounty.org. Go to the bottom of the screen and click Community Notification Enrollment. That takes viewers to a Code Red page, where they can fill in emails, business and residential addresses.
In the event of a true disaster, the decision of which hospital to transport victims would depend primarily upon hospital bed availability and types of injuries. For Kaufman County residents, Howie said, “Texas Health Kaufman is the only hospital in Kaufman County at present, but victims of a disaster would be sent to a hospital capable of treating their injuries, such as Baylor, Parkland or Methodist, which are all level one trauma centers.”
According to Allen, Van Zandt County residents could be sent to, “All hospitals in Tyler, Athens, Kaufman, Dallas, Rockwall and Sunnyvale.” Rains County doesn’t have a hospital, and would depend on facilities in surrounding counties.
Another concern in troubled times is food and water supply. Carr said of Rains County, “We have one major grocery store and two lesser grocery stores in the County. The grocery business is a three day turn around business, so without restocking, the supply cannot be expected to last much longer than three days.”
Carr added, “The County receives much of its water from Lake Tawakoni. One WSC (Water Supply Company) derives some water from drilled wells. The City of Emory owns some water use rights in Lake Fork. There is no way to determine, in a general sense, how long it might take to restore water service. National Guard water tank trucks might be a stop gap measure.” Between law enforcement officers, VFDs, EMS and various other volunteers, Carr estimates there are about 80 citizens to each first responder in Rains County.
Regarding emergency provisions to citizens of Van Zandt County (VZC), Allen said, “We have means to bring in drinking water on pallets or other means if needed, through other locations and distributers.” He listed the ratio of VZC first responders to residents as follows: “We have approximately 500 first responders throughout the County. This includes law, fire and EMS. The ratio is about one fire fighter to 145 citizens, one ambulance to every 8,250 citizens and one law officer to every 500 citizens.”
Howie was uncertain of the ratio of first responders to Kaufman County residents. In regard to where citizens could turn for water and how long it would take to return water service, in the event of a terrorist attack or other disaster, Howie simply answered, “The local government and Emergency Management would work to provide basic necessities to residents.”