Terrorism threat still on minds of emergency personnel

September 11, 2003|HERB BROCK

The crumbling of the Twin Towers in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, and the subsequent anthrax scare triggered a wave of aftershocks throughout every city and county in the nation, sending local emergency services agencies into crisis mode as they wondered how to prepare for everything from planes-turned-into bombs, biochemical attacks to water supply contamination.

Among the emergency agencies shaken into action were those in Boyle County. A committee representing local government, health, police, fire and disaster and emergency services agencies and Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center, many of which had fielded calls from a jittery public about mail they were receiving, water they were drinking and suspicious vehicles they had been keeping an eye on, began holding highly-publicized meetings.

Two years have come and gone since 9/11, but have the sense of urgency and interest in disaster preparedness passed as well? Has the connection that immediately formed between "fly over country" and "fly into country" dissipated? Has the committee in Boyle County and informal panels of emergency personnel in other area counties and the rest of Kentucky continued their work?


The answer, according to local and state public health and emergency management officials, is that the urgency and interest are still there, though not as keen. The connection is still there, though not as pronounced. The work is still being done, though not as publicized.

"We're still meeting and still planning and still preparing," said Roger Trent, administrator of the Boyle County Health Department and head of the Boyle committee. "Things are quieter now, but we still feel a sense of responsibility to be as prepared as we can be. And we still feel connected to Ground Zero because we know that what happened there can happen anywhere.

"The threat of terrorism is still there, as strong or even stronger than it was two years ago, and we need to be as prepared as possible," he said.

Emergency services quietly engaging in terror-related planning

Almost under the radar, local emergency services agencies in Boyle, Casey, Garrard, Lincoln and Mercer counties, in league with regional and state agencies, have quietly been engaged in terror-related planning, preparedness and equipment purchases.

In fact, the five county disaster and emergency services agencies in this area have applied for and received a total of nearly $40,000 in state grants, each in the $7,000 to $8,000 range, to revise and update their disaster emergency preparedness plans. The deadline for the plans to be sent to the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management for approval is November.

Every aspect of the plans is to be updated, but the county DES directors have been instructed to add a terror-related component. A state emergency official said the state and county DES agencies need to revive a "Cold War mentality and sense of preparedness" they have drifted away from in the last two decades.

In addition, the county DES agencies are in the process of applying for state grants that would provide them money with which to buy equipment to deal with the aftermath of a terrorist attack. The grants, rather ominously called "WMD grants," would allow the county agencies to buy communications equipment, mobile laboratories, special vehicles, gas masks and other equipment that would be used in responding to incidents involving chemical, biological, nuclear and conventional weapons of mass destruction.

The WMD grants are to come in two rounds, the first ranging from $24,000 to $26,000 per county and the second ranging from $57,000 to $64,000 per county. The Boyle DES, for instance, would spend its first-round money - some $26,000 - on communications equipment. The total allocated to all five counties for both rounds adds up to more than $300,000.

Trent said the Boyle panel's first job is to "develop a line communications" between and among all emergency agencies and hospitals.

"If nothing else, our meetings have accomplished the creating of a system where we know who is responsible for what and who we need to talk to about what," said Trent.

Boyle County DES Coordinator Leonard Shepperson agreed.

"We are meeting once a month with the heads of all emergency agencies in the county to discuss the plan revision and updating and preparedness for all kinds of disasters, not just terrorism," said Shepperson. "That's not something that happened before, so, in that respect, 9/11 has produced something positive, at least here in Boyle County."

In addition, there are quarterly meetings of the emergency personnel with representatives of local industries, utilities, the medical center, Red Cross and the Salvation Army, he said.

"Communications between all the entities that would be involved in responding to a disaster are the best they have ever been in the many years I've been with the DES," Shepperson said.

Smallpox inoculation is first major project

Central Kentucky News Articles