Emergency responders prepared

Published 6:11 am Friday, March 21, 2003

By Staff
By SARAH HODGES Staff Writer
Although few obvious changes have been implemented at the local level, area emergency response officials say they had been preparing for the contingency of war that became a reality Wednesday night -- and the potential side effects.
A spokesman in Beaufort County's Emergency Management Office said Thursday that the Emergency Operations Plan, a comprehensive document designed for the entire county, would be activated if threats related to the war surfaced in Eastern North Carolina.
Officials reported that the plan, which last was activated in the wake of Hurricane Floyd, focuses on the county and its municipalities in times of disaster. The plan involves all local law enforcement offices, emergency response agencies, schools and medical facilities.
In the event of a disaster, operations would be coordinated among the participating agencies.
For now, officials say they are staying "aware and alert" -- like other Americans.
The Beaufort County Schools sent out letters Thursday to reassure parents and students that every possible plan is in place in the event the Iraqi conflict spills over to the Pamlico area in a tangible way.
In the letter, Superintendent Anthony Parker explained, "We have a comprehensive emergency crisis management plan in place," which provides specific guidelines to direct faculty and staff in the event of an emergency.
Elements of the Critical Incident Response Plan, mandated by North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, also would be activated in the event of a crisis.
School staff members have been provided the information to enable them to handle emergency situations, until additional help -- from local law enforcement officers, medical personnel or other support -- arrives.
Parker stressed in the letter the intent was not to alarm anyone, but "simply to make you aware that we are mindful of the state of the world at this time. Our objective every day is to make the safety of your child our highest priority."
Under the direction of Mayor Tommy Roberson, employees with the town of Williamston have been taking stock of possible problem areas in the event of an attack or threats of one.
Since February, Capt. Jim Bullins of the Williamston Police Department and Capt. Andy Holliman of the Williamston Fire Department have been examining all facilities in the town limits.
Sites pinpointed for study included -- but were not limited to -- businesses or areas of great population, places hazardous materials are stored, historic sites, well supplies and town offices.
At the conclusion of the project, Bullins said he and Holliman will return to the locations and offer suggestions to improve safety and security procedures.
Although Martin County does not have a countywide plan of action, Bullins said agencies are familiar with the internal plans of facilities such as schools and hospitals if they are called to respond.
As in Beaufort County, the Martin County schools and law enforcement officers would implement the Critical Incident Response Plan in the event of an emergency.
Capt. Sandy Blizzard of the Washington Police Department said his officers are not doing anything different at this point, but they are prepared if the war with Iraq escalates.
He compared the current climate to that of post-Sept. 11, 2001 -- a heightened state of awareness.