Teaming up to address emergencies

Published 3:04 pm Thursday, February 28, 2019

Buckingham County officials, with the collaboration of state agencies, gathered to revitalize the county’s Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) in a meeting Tuesday night.

The LEPC establishes plans to address a number of possible disasters that could occur in the county. This can include everything from hurricanes, floods, the breaking of dams in the county, chemical leakages and fires.

Gene Stewart, Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) Region 3 Chief Regional Coordinator, spoke during the meeting to address the importance of having an active LEPC. He said the United States established LEPCs following a 1984 gas leak in Bhopal, India that killed more than 2,000 people.

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Stewart said the committee is established to ask the question “What if?”

What if there was a massive chemical leak? What if there was a hurricane or tornado that damaged county infrastructure? What’s the plan if a dam exceeds its flooding threshold?

The county LEPC, Stewart said, works together to create plans, using the knowledge from representatives of diverse departments.

Stewart’s jurisdiction covers 22 localities and towns, stretching from Rockingham and Harrisonburg to Lynchburg, a significant portion of Central Virginia.

Introducing the meeting was E-911 Coordinator/ Emergency Management Coordinator Cody Davis. Participating in the meeting was County Administrator Rebecca Carter, District Three Supervisor Don Matthews, Sheriff William “Bill” Kidd and Dispatcher Sam Davis, Public Works Officer Mike Markley, Peter Francisco Soil and Water Conservation Specialist Kelly Snoddy and Information Technology Manager Jamie Shumaker.

Arvonia Volunteer Fire Department Chief Chris Davis and Dillwyn Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jason Wharam were in attendance. Arvonia has approximately 10 officers out of 20 active members who are certified to respond to hazmat incidents, Chris Davis said, and Dillwyn has approximately 20 officers certified out of approximately 35 active officers, Wharam said.

There were also representatives present from the Dillwyn Correctional Center, the American Red Cross, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Virginia Department of Transportation, Hazardous Materials Officer Ray Earp with VDEM, Virginia State Police, the Virginia Health Department and Heritage Hall Nursing Home in Dillwyn.

Referencing a 2014 derailment of a freight train and subsequent oil spill in Lynchburg, Stewart said the committee plays an important role in determining how the county responds to the dangerous and the unexpected.

Davis said he received a crash course in emergency preparation when Tropical Storm Florence entered the area in September.

Davis said the onus falls on both the LEPC and industries in the area to communicate with one another in the event there is chemical storage in the county. For example, if industries or county agencies are expected to transport or store cargo that contains chemicals, the agency or company would notify the county of the new development.

In addition to discussions relating to weather and hazmat threats, Davis also spoke about developing an active shooter training exercise for Buckingham County High School.

During the meeting, Davis distributed a template of the bylaws for the members to review.

The committee also voted to take an all-hazards approach to emergency management, meaning that the committee would work to create plans for any type of emergency situation.

The committee decided to schedule the committee meetings quarterly. The next meeting for the LEPC is scheduled for May.

The Tuesday meeting offered more of a general overview of the LEPC, but Davis said the following meetings should focus on more specific emergencies and concrete steps in addressing them.

Davis said the committee is a team effort and thanked representatives of the county and state agencies for their dedication and participation.