By Ken Ross
Cherokee County will be better prepared for an event we hope never happens, as the result of a $93,000 grant recently announced by Aimee Barritt, county emergency management coordinator.
The two major items paid for by the emergency preparedness grant will be mass decontamination equipment at $48,000 and a mass casualty trailer at almost $40,000. The remainder of the grant will pay for classes in use of the equipment for all emergency services personnel in the county and for a large scale exercise to involve every fire department in the county, both ambulance services, the hospital, the public health department and law enforcement agencies.
Barritt said there will easily be over 100 emergency service personnel at the exercise planned for Saturday, July 30, and that 50 volunteers are sought to participate in the exercise as victims.
She is starting already to recruit volunteers to portray victims because of the large numbers needed. She does not want anyone younger than high school age, because younger people can become upset by the realism of the exercise.
The grant application prepared by Barritt was submitted to the state for federal funds. The state awards these grants on a competitive basis and this year awarded seven of the 41 grant requests. The request from Cherokee County was for close to the $100,000 maximum for a grant.
Two challenges in using the grant funds are - a tight deadline, Aug. 31, for using the funds and the requirement that the money has to be spent before the grant funds are received.
Barritt said the first challenge will be met through the extra effort on the part of professional and volunteer emergency service workers and the second challenge has been overcome through the assistance of the Cherokee County Board of Supervisors.
Barritt; Don Fiser, president of the county's Emergency Medical Services Board; and Keith Willis, EMS Board treasurer; were present at a Cherokee County Board of Supervisors meeting on April 5 to seek assistance in obtaining funds prior to reimbursement of expenses by the state.
The board agreed to co-sign for a bank loan to pay for the expenses to be reimbursed by the grant and to pay the interest on the loan. At the April 12 meeting, the supervisors approved the loan agreement.
Barritt attributed the county's success in obtaining the grant ito the fact that the county's overall plan fits into precisely what the state wants counties to accomplish.
A disaster involving mass casualties would overwhelm the emergency services' ability to deal with it quickly and effectively.
A disaster involving chemical contamination of a large number of people is an example of a situation for which the county is not prepared. Both the equipment and training for this situation are being obtained through the grant.
Rigid frame decontamination showers in two tents with propane water heaters, as are being purchased, can handle as many as 16 people at once. The equipment is portable, can be put together rapidly by trained people and has adapters to receive water from a variety of sources.
A mass casualty trailer will allow equipment and medical supplies to be transported to a large scale disaster in a hurry. There are generators, lights, a landing zone kit to create a helicopter landing area and also equipment to contain and deal with a hazardous material spill. Most of the medical supplies will be consumables, items that are not meant for reuse.
The consumables for the trailer are being purchased with a separate grant, not included in the $93,000 grant used for durable items and training.
Part of the criteria for selecting equipment is compatibility with equipment used in other counties. The counties are cooperating in emergency preparedness so that the counties can coordinate efforts effectively when mutual assistance is needed.
Barritt said that the emergency preparedness grant is potentially renewable for two years so the county may be able to buy more equipment and provide more training in the future.
Barritt praises emergency services personnel in the county, many of them volunteers, for their willingness to put forth the effort to become even more effective. She also praises the EMS Board members and the county supervisors for their efforts to make the county better prepared to deal with disasters.