By Wayne Sheets
Contributing Business Writer
One of the most involved yet least known civic groups in Randolph County is the Local Emergency Planning Committee. This group of concerned, dedicated citizens is doing more than any other group of individuals in the county, short of Homeland Security - of which the LEPC has direct ties. They formulate plans and complete a myriad of other tasks necessary to handle emergencies, both natural and manmade.
The group is made up of representatives from the Randolph County Commission, Randolph County Office of Emergency Management, American Red Cross, Randolph County Sheriff's Department, West Virginia State Police, public service districts throughout the county, city and county volunteer fire departments, EMS responders, Certified Emergency Rescue Team members, Appalachian Mental Health, state Department of Health and Human Resources, Elkins Ministerial Association, Randolph County Health Department, Tyrand Ministries, Huttonsville Correctional Facility, interested members of the public at large and many others. As always, when naming groups that are represented in any committee, someone is invariably left out. I have probably missed someone, and if so, I apologize.
LEPC meetings are on the third Wednesday of each month at the Randolph County Courthouse Annex and are open to the public. The meetings seldom last more than 60 minutes and are restricted by committee rules not to exceed 90 minutes.
This past Wednesday's meeting began with the usual committee reports and immediately got to the heart of the agenda. First off, OEM Director Marvin Hill presented an update on the "Safe Schools Initiative" that has been in progress for the past year and a half. As a result of the participation and cooperation of school principals, transportation personnel, law enforcement officials and others, those involved have all but completed emergency lockdown procedures, evacuation procedures and routes, safe holding areas, common emergency alert status codes and language terms, school security and other necessary emergency procedures should a tragedy occur. This has been, and continues to be, an extremely sensitive and complicated undertaking that is still a work in progress. Those involved have donated countless hours of their own time and resources and are to be commended for their efforts.
On the evening of Aug. 11, the water plant manager in Harman was killed in a tragic accident when his motorcycle collided with a deer that jumped into the roadway. He was the only person qualified to operate the pumps that keep the town furnished with water. Through Memorandums of Understanding that are in effect between county public service districts, negotiated by the Randolph County Office of Emergency Management, other qualified operators were immediately located to take over the water operations. What could have been a major water shortage - even in Whitmer - was averted thanks to pre-planning for just such an emergency.
The Rev. Theodore Bessey, pastor of the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elkins, worked for months planning and coordinating a workshop that would bring together the leaders of our faith-based community and emergency planning experts. His efforts reached fruition on Aug. 14 when nearly 30 religious leaders gathered at Holy Trinity to learn from emergency planning personnel what they can do to educate their parishioners in case of emergencies. The only regret anyone had regarding this workshop was that none of the larger churches were represented at the meeting.
The Rev. Herman Jones, pastor at the Faith Baptist Church in Beverly, said, "The meeting was a great success. Much new information was presented to our segment of the community - information that is vital to the safety and well-being of the entire faith-based community. I give it an A-plus."
In all too many instances, programs initiated by the OEM and West Virginia Division of Homeland Security that would serve a myriad of time and life-saving functions are met with apathy. In early February, the OEM issued a press release stating that the county had received a WVDHS grant to fund an assessment of emergency response capabilities throughout Randolph County. Local TV and radio stations carried the release, as well as local newspapers. Forms were mailed to businesses requesting a listing of equipment and services - along with their associated costs - that they could provide in the event of a catastrophe - like that of the 1985 flood. Voluntary response to the information request was so poor that a private company had to be contracted to track down and assemble the specifics. This, too, is a work in progress.
On a more positive note, the 100 kW emergency power generator at Camp Pioneer was fired up on Aug. 11. Camp Pioneer has been designated as an emergency shelter and will now have a second source of power, if needed. The other generator acquired for emergency-shelter use is in place at Elkins High School. As soon as approval is granted from state authorities, it too will be online for emergency use.
Another exciting bit of news, according to the OEM, is that the U.S. Department of Commerce has provided 182,000 portable weather radios to be issued to every kindergarten through 12th-grade school in the U.S. These radios will - in addition to providing severe weather information - also serve along with WDNE-AM 1240 as the countywide emergency information network.
These are but a few of the many projects and programs under way in preparing for an event or events that most hope and pray will never happen. I believe it behooves every citizen to do all they can to support the efforts of the LEPC and the WVDHS.
When we are trained - we respond. When we are not trained - we react.
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The Rev. Ellis Conley of the First United Methodist Church asked me to pass along his thanks and appreciation to all those who participated, donated time and resources, the sponsors and volunteers who helped make the sixth annul UMYF Mission Golf Tournament on July 19 the great success it was.
"The weather was perfect, the golf was competitive, but the chicken was the best," Conley said. "Fifteen teams participated in the event. At the end the day we had golfers who were thrilled with their prizes and full from their chicken dinner, and the high school class of the UMYF raised $5,611."
Participants shared 12 golf packages and many door prizes donated by local merchants. Several businesses also donated food. Conley also extended a hearty thanks to all the high school UMYF helpers.