LEPC says we're on our own

Thursday, April 5, 2007

When and if the big disaster ever hits this area, many people are going to need shelter. But at the last meeting of the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) Council, "shelter" can be defined in more than one way.

While the big earthquake is certainly at the top of the anticipated disasters, it isn't the only disaster that could hit our area. Regardless of the disaster, LEPC planners want the community to know that they are making plans to try to be as prepared as possible in the event of an emergency.

"Take a note from Hurricane Katrina," said Jeff Puckett, Clay County Office of Emergency Management Coordinator and LEPC chair. "The smaller communities were at the end of the list to get help. The big areas got the help first. We need to be prepared to be the last on the list."

"I think we need to tell the community to be prepared for a couple of months," said Brian Nagy of Piggott Community Hospital, "instead of a couple of weeks."

Anthony Coy, the Northeast Area Coordinator for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management (ADEM) said that our area currently has a catastrophic planner on loan from FEMA.

"We're not sure how long we'll have him," Coy said, "but we have the resource so let's plan while we have him."

Coy reminded everyone that the last major earthquakes in the area were the famous quakes of 1811/1812, a time when population was very limited.

"While we do have some shelters here," Coy said, "we're hoping that they are still standing. The entire eastern third of Arkansas may be a swamp."

Coy said one of the things they're trying to do in conjunction with the FEMA planner is to determine what resources might be needed in the event of an earthquake or other disaster.

"We've asked Jeff Puckett to come up with a list of shelters," said Coy noting that many have approached them on the possibility of being a shelter, especially the faith based organizations like churches.

The big fear is that during a disaster situation, all of the aid will go to St. Louis or to Memphis.

"The main thing about the list we're trying to do," said Coy, "is decide what exactly we need to make a location into a shelter."

"I suggest we include everything we need," said Jeff Puckett,. Puckett suggested that if there are organizations or people who are "almost" equipped to be a shelter, they should call him because the possibility exists that help could be provided to get them the things they need.

Coy further explained that shelter doesn't always mean spending the night. Some churches are set up to feed; some are set up for sleeping. They can come together to create a complete shelter environment.

"Even if a place wants to be a shelter," Coy said, "but can't keep people overnight, they can still possibly be a daytime shelter."

Don Settles, associational missionary for the Current-Gaines Baptist Association said the Association has a mobile shower station, mobile computer station, mobile feeding unit, and a mobile chainsaw unit. Settles reminded attendees that the Southern Baptist Conference is responsible for most of the food supplied by The American Red Cross.

"The thing I worry about," said Piggott Mayor Gerald Morris, "is all the creeks and bridges." Morris said in the event of a major earthquake, many of the creeks and rivers will be impassable, making it difficult for our area to receive aid.

Coy said that Mississippi County has an agreement with local farmers to repair bridges near them and that their local bridges are the number one priority in the event of a major disaster.

Discussion circulated about portable bridges, but the concern again was the ability to get them here.

Another question raised was how quick and how many helicopters would be able to respond to the area.

"PCH has thirty cots," said Brian Nagy of PCH. "We are looking for a trailer that is equipped with blankets and such for Northeast Arkansas, one dedicated to our region. The hospital is also looking at getting tents."

Puckett also told of plans for BJ Mann to speak to the group in a few months. Mann was the ranking administrator on the campus of California State University Northridge during the Northridge earthquake of 1994. Mann was responsible for the rescue and organizational efforts at CSUN after the 6.6 4:30 a.m. quake.

Puckett also discussed the recent Tier 2 report on chemical usage and storage in the area. Several companies in the county were listed including the chemicals on hand. The companies included on the list were: Morris Farm Center in Greenway, Success Grain in Success, Farm Service in Corning, and LA Darling and Centurytel, both in Piggott.

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