Local first responders and other community members have wrapped up the final stages of launching an expanded and more inclusive local emergency planning committee (LEPC).
Under the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, LEPC’s are formed to lay out response plans for emergency and disaster situations. Those plans are reviewed annually.
Previously, a more informal group existed in Smyth County, made up of local agencies and institutions, with input from the department of emergency management with the county’s previous emergency services coordinator tasked with drawing up the emergency response plan each year.
Curtis Crawford, who took the helm as emergency services coordinator last fall, said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been pushing for more community involvement for years.
“And Southwest Virginia has been a little bit behind on getting the whole community involved in responding to emergencies. This is definitely one of the bigger ways that we can do that and get input from everyone in the community and get input to provide for everyone in the community.”
The LEPC is comprised of local police, fire and EMS, town and county leaders, local business and industry leaders, Smyth County School officials, Department of Social Services members and state and regional authorities, as well as local citizens.
First responders are, of course, a given for such a group, but having the school system and department of social services involved helps add valuable input. Having local industries aboard also helps first responders prepare for things like chemical spills or exposures of other hazardous materials. In turn, the committee can also help those institutions and businesses better prepare for the emergencies they could face.
“They pretty much are the subject matter experts or the community members that are helping us put together the best way to respond to emergencies,” Crawford said.
The committee will plan out responses for everything from natural disasters, like tornadoes and flooding, to emergency situations such as large-scale fires. Crawford, who will chair the committee in the coming year, gave the 1997 fire at Marley Mouldings in Atkins and the 2011 tornado that struck Glade Spring as examples of the types of emergencies the committee will plan for.
“During those events, the emergency operations planning goes into effect,” he said.
Now that its members have structured the committee and have laid out its bylaws, they’ll next move forward with quarterly meetings and plan out trainings and exercises. This week, the committee will form a planning group to work on its first exercise, an active shooter drill, expected to take place next spring.
“We’ll be working with all the players involved with the schools board, sheriff’s office and the local emergency agencies,” Crawford said, adding that “As soon as we do this exercise, we’ll see where the emergency operations plan needs to be updated, and the newer needs and newer capabilities that we can provide to the citizens.”
Crawford said he hopes the community’s citizens will become involved. The meetings, which will be held quarterly beginning next year, are open to the public. He said anyone who wants to be involved should contact him.
“I’d be happy to get them info and get them involved,” he said. “Anybody that has a passion for emergencies and helping others, we’ll be happy to take them on.”
Those interested can contact Crawford at 276-706-8311 or at email@example.com.