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Panhandle counties receive Homeland Security funding

April 20, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - West Virginia's three Eastern Panhandle counties and the City of Martinsburg were awarded nearly $900,000 Monday to help them beef up their emergency response operations in case of a local terrorist attack or some other type of disaster.

The money, which totaled $894,900, will be used in a variety of ways, such as purchasing protective suits for sheriff's deputies, upgrading emergency alert systems and helping to fund efforts such as the revamping of local emergency response plans, said Steve Allen, director of the Berkeley County Office of Emergency Services.

The money was part of $31.1 million distributed to communities in all of the state's 55 counties Monday by Gov. Bob Wise.

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The amount to be distributed in the Eastern Panhandle was listed on a printed release from Wise's office.

The money will be used for equipment ranging from software and patrol boats to chemical decontamination units and hydraulic jacks for urban rescues, officials said.

Of the $894,900 which went to the Eastern Panhandle, $385,940 was awarded to Berkeley County.

Most of Berkeley County's money is made up of a $295,940 law enforcement grant. That money will be used to pay for protective gear such as suits and gloves for sheriff's deputies, Allen said.

A $50,000 grant was given to Berkeley County to pay the salary of a person who is re-writing the county's emergency plan, Allen said. The plan would dictate how emergency officials will react if a terrorist attack or some other type of disaster should occur, Allen said.

Berkeley County received $30,000 to implement an emergency alert system which will use television cable systems and radio to alert county residents to a disaster or terrorist attack, Allen said.

Currently, informing county residents of an emergency situation - such as a tornado - can be difficult, especially if residents have to be informed within a short time frame, Allen said.

The $30,000 grant also will be used to upgrade the power generator system at the Office of Emergency Services office on South Queen Street, Allen said. The current power generator system would power 911 radio systems in case of a power outage, but it leaves the sheriff's office next door "virtually in the dark" during a power outage, Allen said.

The remaining money for Berkeley County is a $10,000 grant for a citizens corps which will be involved in various parts of terrorist preparedness work, Allen said. The citizens corps would help identify volunteers who would help staff shelters or locate equipment that could be used in the event of a disaster, Allen said.

The $10,000 could be used for computer equipment to help organize the data the volunteers collect, Allen said.

The city of Martinsburg received $175,000, which was unexpected news for Martinsburg Mayor George Karos. Karos said he does not remember the city applying for the money.

"It was quite a surprise to me," Karos said.

Karos said he, Fire Chief Paul Bragg, Police Chief Ted Anderson, and City Manager Mark Baldwin are expected to meet May 6 to determine what kind of guidelines are associated with the use of the money.

Jefferson County received $212,970. County officials there were unavailable for comment Monday night.

Morgan County received $120,990.

"It's a tremendous thing when we can do something that helps our police officers, firefighters and other emergency responders," Wise said. "The distribution of this money will further enhance our homeland security efforts."

The grants are among about $3 billion meant to help all state and local governments provide aid to first responders. They form part of $41.4 billion in federal spending on domestic security during the fiscal year ending in September.

"This takes our ability to respond to a catastrophic event to the community level," said Steve Kappa, director of the state Office of Emergency Services.

He said local emergency officials may have to mitigate disaster consequences for up to 48 hours before receiving federal help.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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