Committee prepares for emergencies

Published 12:51 am Friday, May 13, 2011

Washington fire Chief Robbie Rose (left) and John Pack, Beaufort County’s emergency services coordinator, confer at a meeting to reorganize the Beaufort County Local Emergency Planning Committee. (WDN Photo/Mike Voss)

It’s back – almost.

After a five-year hiatus, the Beaufort County Local Emergency Planning Committee is being reformed. The committee’s mission is to better prepare the public and private sectors in the county to respond to emergencies such as natural disasters, environmental emergencies and other threats to the public’s safety and health. It must prepare an emergency response plan that addresses multiple scenarios, update that plan at least annually and provide information about chemicals in the county to county residents.

About 30 people met Thursday to begin the process to revive Beaufort County’s LEPC. Participants came from several Beaufort County emergency response agencies, industries and government agencies. Representatives from Beaufort Regional Health System, the agricultural community and municipal government also attended.

Part of the committee’s planning process includes requiring segments of the community that deal with specified amounts of hazardous materials to provide an annual inventory of those materials that pose hazards č chemical, biological, radioactive and so on. Those annual submissions are known as Tier II inventory reporting.

The Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act requires the governor of each state to designate a State Emergency Response Commission to direct and manage the hazardous materials contingency planning effort required of industries and communities. EPCRA requires facilities that use or store a hazard chemical above a specified amount to report their chemical inventories to certain officials before March 1 of each year. That information must be submitted to the fire department having jurisdiction over the facility, the respective county’s LEPC and the SERC.

Having updated Tier II reports readily available and quickly accessible is critical to emergency-response personnel and others in helping them know how to deal with specific incidents, said John Pack, Beaufort County’s emergency-services coordinator.

“LEPC can’t function unless we know about these documents,” Pack said. “The Tier IIs are critical to the local fire departments and EMS so they know what hazards may be in their particular fire and EMS districts. It’s critical to the people at the facility so they can work with the local fire and EMS (departments). The LEPC’s job is to make sure this interface occurs.”

Pack said local and state officials are working with railroads and the N.C. Department of Transportation to better identify what hazardous materials are being shipped by rail and by ground shipments through the area and state.

“We don’t need any surprises,” Pack told those at the meeting.

Pack said the LEPC isn’t an enforcement agency when it comes to keeping up with Tier II reports.

“We’re not regulators. We’re assisters,” he said.

The LEPC makes sure there’s a plan in place, a plan ready to use when it’s needed, Pack said.

Brian Barnes, a risk-management program coordinator for the N.C. Emergency Management Division, attended the meeting, offering his views on LEPCs. The exchange of information between the LEPC and the different segments of the community enables the LEPC to know what threats the county faces and what resources are available to address those threats, he said.

“Getting that information from each other is what it’s really all about,” Barnes said.

During the meeting, attendees discussed who should be voting members of the LEPC, the process for selecting LEPC officers and establishing bylaws for the committee.

Robbie Rose, chief of the Washington Fire-Rescue-EMS Department, serves as interim chairman of the committee.

The committee plans to meet at 10 a.m. June 16 at the Chocowinity Fire Department.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

email author More by Mike