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County preparing for the worst

Emergency officials are devising a plan to make the county better prepared for disasters

Emergency officials are devising a plan to make the county better prepared for disasters

August 29, 2002|by CANDICE BOSELY

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Emergency officials are working on a plan on how to handle any possible natural or man-made disaster that might happen here, a move that will make the county eligible for supplemental federal money should such a disaster ever occur.

Officials are focusing on natural disasters, including flooding, blizzards, hurricanes and tornados. Much of the work centers on historical research - determining when and where such events have happened before, said Steve Allen, director of the Berkeley County Office of Emergency Services.

Once that research is finished, the focus will shift to how to handle such disasters, and, lastly, how either the disaster or its effects could be eliminated or reduced in the future.


Preventing a tornado is impossible, Allen said, but a good warning system and shelters could reduce loss of life.

The comprehensive plan, which could cost the county around $53,000, must be submitted to the state Office of Emergency Services next year to make Berkeley eligible for the extra funding from FEMA. That money could be used for preventative measures, like moving people out of known flood zones, elevating homes or upgrading roads, Allen said.

Some costs incurred by the project may be reimbursed through grant money, Allen said. Much of the estimated $53,000 expense is work hours, but also includes mapping and aerial photography costs, Allen said.

Once complete, the plan will satisfy requirements established by the Disaster Mitigation Act, passed in Congress in 2000.

Martinsburg City Engineer/Planner Michael Covell is working on the project as a representative from Martinsburg. A Hedgesville representative is still needed.

Covell, Allen and the others who make up the "core" group overseeing the project met Tuesday and will meet again in mid-September, as they work toward the final deadline of November 2003, Covell said.

Man-made disasters that need to be planned for include major power outages or severe accidents on Interstate 81 or the railroad tracks. Although the federal project got under way before Sept. 11, planning for terrorism is now a facet of it as well, Allen and Covell agreed.

Numerous county, city and private organizations will be involved in the project, Allen said. The Berkeley County Historical Society, for example, may be called upon to help research past disasters and their frequency.

Members of the Local Emergency Planning Committee, comprised of EMS personnel, firefighters, hospital workers, health department officials, Red Cross officials and others, will also probably be used, Allen said.

During a recent city council meeting, Covell said public hearings should be scheduled to discuss the project, and volunteers may be sought to help complete the plan.

"I look at this as an investment in something that's very worthwhile," Covell told council members. "Plan for the worst and hope for the best."

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