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Poarch hosts EPC meeting Tuesday

By By Adam Prestridge
Escambia County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) director David Adams is attempting to kill two birds with one stone.
Tuesday morning, Adams, along with representatives from several county emergency service departments, met during an Emergency Planning Committee (EPC) meeting initiated by Poarch Band of Creek Indians' emergency management director April Sells. Officials with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were also on hand during the meeting, held on the Poarch Creek Reservation, to address hazardous materials and other environmental safety regulations.
"This is a very, very important meeting," David Coggins, State of Alabama Emergency Management Agency regional coordinator, said. "Fortunately we have dodged a hurricane so far this season, but the season isn't over yet. We are still holding our breath."
Among those on hand were Ricky Elliot with the Escambia County Department of Public Health, Charlotte Boyle and Sandy Zuiderhoek with the West Escambia Chapter of the American Red Cross, Cindy Lee with Atmore Nursing Center, Atmore Police Department chief Jason Dean and public safety director Glenn Carlee, Atmore Fire &Rescue Department chief Gerry McGhee, Atmore Street Department supervisor Don Whatley and Atmore Building Inspector Chris Black. Also in attendance was Flomaton Police Department assistant chief Tim Hawsey, Bob Ellis of D.W. McMillan Hospital, several representatives with the Poach Band of Creek Indians and representatives for the Escambia County Board of Education, the Escambia County Sheriff's Office and Kelley's Ambulance.
Coggins, who represents Southwest Alabama or Region I, explained to those on hand that it is state mandated for every county to have an Emergency Planning Committee (EPC). He also stressed the importance of staying on top of emergency matters within the county.
"It is important that we all stay active," Coggins said.
Even though Coggins touched briefly on natural hazards, the meeting focused in more on hazardous chemicals and other HAZMAT issues, which Henry Hudson of the EPA out of Atlanta reviewed.
During his presentation, Hudson went over in detail the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA), which was passed in 1986 following an accident involving chemicals in Bhopal, India on Dec. 3, 1984. The accident killed more than 5,000 people and thousands have suffered from its generational effects ranging from respiratory problems to early death. As a result, requirements from state and county agencies were brought forth to hopefully prevent such tragedies in the U.S.
Among those requirements are the formation of a State Emergency Response Commission (SERCs) and Tribal Emergency Response Commission (TERCs). Local Emergency Planning Districts are designated and a Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) is appointed.
"The people here today represent the LEPCs well because everyone here is important to public safety," Hudson said.
Hudson said the community has the right to know what hazards exist around them and how to protect themselves in the event of a release.
The role of the SERCs and TERCs is to coordinate and supervise the LEPC, receive and maintain reports, prepare an emergency response plan and hold drills and public meetings. The reason for the community-wide meeting is because Escambia County officials and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians are planning to join forces.
"We're trying to establish an EPC in the county," Adams said. "We want to address all hazards; manmade or natural. It will be self-driven and carry on the duties of the LEPC."
Adams believes joining forces will keep everyone on the same page.
"We want to have involvement from the different entities in the county," he said. "We want everyone to have input when making the plan."
Coggins said the EPA's attendance wasn't to just inform those on hand of the requirements, but to also be familiar with officials and the area in the event of a hazardous mishap.
"We would like to make sure you know about all the facilities and chemicals out there," he said. "We want to be familiar with your plan. If something were to hit the fan, we want to know the people on the local level. We want to keep up to speed with what you are doing and do our part."
Coggins explained that he would like the Escambia County EPC to be prepared for all hazards and train for evacuations, mass care, commodities, response and recovery and mitigation.
"Unfortunately Escambia County has been a long time without one (EPC)," he said. "It is hard to keep interest in something there is no money coming into to fund."
EPA environmental protection specialist Elisa Roper also explained the CAMEO(r) program established in 1987, which is an acronym for Computer-Aided Management of Emergency Operations. The program, which was created as an emergency response tool, is free and has been used by state and Tribal emergency response commissions, fire and police departments, local EPCs, industries, schools and colleges, military bases and environmental organizations. The program helps to monitor hazardous materials and warns users in the event of an emergency, while detailing safe zones, danger zones and other vital information.
Adams said he hopes to have an EPC formed within Escambia County soon, but said it is up to county emergency service departments to chair the committee.
"The EMA is just a facilitator," Adams said.