EMA ready to answer call for assistance

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By Bryan Marshall

As the likelihood of a snow or ice storm increases with each day into winter, Grant County Emergency Management has to be prepared to act.

An Emergency Operations Plan addresses all hazards for the county, said Richard Willoby, director of the Grant County Emergency Management.

Like Northern Kentucky, Grant County uses a winter storm rating system that goes from a Level 3, the least restrictive, to a Level 1, allowing only emergency vehicles on the roadways.

Willoby said that Grant County Emergency Management, in conjunction with Kentucky Emergency Management and the National Weather Service in Wilmington, Ohio, consult on approaching severe weather situations in order to prepare and put plans into action if needed.

“Grant County Emergency Management typically provides emergency generators, shelters and coordination of emergency resources during times of emergencies,” he said. “We work closely with the (American) Red Cross in shelter situations and addressing needs of citizens of Grant County during times of emergencies.”

“The biggest challenge can be keeping roadways open so that emergency vehicles can still respond as needed,” Willoby said.

In 1994, Interstate 75 was completely shut down causing a large number of people to be stranded in Grant County for a week.

Grant County Emergency Management set up 10 shelters county-wide to house and feed approximately 3,000 people.

The last major disaster operation that involved activation of the Emergency Operations Center was for the 1997 Falmouth flood, Willoby said.

Grant County Emergency Management provided the initial response, supplies and personnel during the flood.

Another challenge for Emergency Management is educating the public about preparing for all types of emergencies, said Willoby, who added that everyone should have a shelter supply box that contains a flashlight, portable radio, extra batteries, blankets, food, extra medication, water and any other essential item.

“The public should be prepared to take care of themselves for at least the first 72 hours of an emergency and maybe longer because typically emergency crews are trying to handle the initial response to actual emergencies as they occur,” he said.

Grant County Emergency Management received some much needed equipment that can be useful in dealing with inclement weather and other emergencies.

EMA was also awarded a mobile Emergency Operations Center that will allow the organization to have satellite voice, picture and data communications.

The center, which can serve as a cellular hub, also includes radios that can be a bridge to provide a communication relay between dispatch and responders, said John Snawder, assistant chief for the Technical Search and Rescue (TSAR) and HAZMAT teams for Grant County Emergency Management.

Snawder said that the NOMAD C4XSB will be used in a dedicated command vehicle that responds in emergencies as part of Emergency Management’s team responses and also will assist police, fire and other agencies, including solid waste management, the coroner and the road department.

The equipment has a variety of benefits, he said.

“This will prove invaluable in assisting lost or injured hunters, ATV riders or horsemen,” Snawder said.

It can also be used to establish landing zones for air ambulance, lost person searches and coordination of emergency response agencies.”

The agency likely will be in possession of the equipment by the end of March after undergoing training.

The department also was awarded two pieces of equipment in 2007 for the detection and identification of unknown chemicals.

The Grant County Fiscal Court also purchased a Side-Scan Sonar for the Water Rescue Team two years ago that allows Emergency Management to locate and find objects and missing persons that are submerged in the water.

As a rural community, it is important for Grant County, which often is not eligible for many of the homeland security grant programs designated for large cities and urban areas, to receive grants and awards, Snawder said.

“The Grant County Fiscal court can support us for day-to-day operational things such as vehicles, fuel and things like that, but it is very difficult to find the funds for high-tech equipment that can cost tens of thousands of dollars,” he said.

“Grants like this can help a lot.”