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Trailer location angers Berkeley Co. official

November 22, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The decision to make Jefferson County the first county in the state to receive a decontamination unit that can be used for terrorist attacks has raised the ire of an emergency official in Berkeley County.

The decontamination unit, which is a trailer, contains all the supplies needed to treat people in the event of a terrorist attack or a disaster such as a hazardous materials spill, said Darrell Penwell, director of the Jefferson County Office of Emergency Services, and Barbara Miller, coordinator at the Jefferson County Office of Homeland Security.

The trailer can be used to treat about 200 people an hour, Penwell and Miller told the Jefferson County Commission last Wednesday.

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The trailer, which was provided free from the state, will be stored at Citizens Volunteer Fire Co., along the Charles Town Bypass.

Steve Allen said he regards the situation as a "slap in the face" to Berkeley County.

Allen, director of the Berkeley County Office of Emergency Services, said he does not understand why the decontamination unit was given to Jefferson County when Berkeley County has about twice the population.

Berkeley County also has Interstate 81 with which to contend, Allen said.

"It's unfortunate. I'm not happy with it," Allen said Sunday.

Penwell, Miller or state officials could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Jefferson County Commissioner Greg Corliss declined to speculate on why Jefferson County received the decontamination unit, but he said officials in Jefferson County have been working hard on their homeland security program.

"(Interstate) 81 is a major traffic area, but we have railroads coming through Jefferson County, both north and south, that Berkeley County doesn't have to deal with," Corliss said Sunday.

Jefferson County is closer to Washington, D.C., Corliss said. A possible terrorist attack in Washington has prompted local officials to closely study emergency preparedness in this area, since it is believed Washington, D.C., residents might flee to the Eastern Panhandle in the event of an attack.

If Berkeley County ever had a major emergency for which a decontamination unit was needed, the one in Jefferson County would be taken there, Corliss said.

Last year, a West Virginia Summit on Homeland Security was co-hosted by U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife's National Conservation Training Center near Shepherdstown, W.Va., in Jefferson County.

At the summit, Allen said work has progressed on developing a special-response team that would respond to any terrorist attacks locally.

But Allen said despite the efforts, the burning question has been: Where is the equipment needed for such an attack?

Allen said Sunday that Berkeley County has received one truck from the state. The truck is equipped with personal protection suits and monitoring equipment, Allen said.

Each county is supposed to receive a decontamination unit, Allen said.

When asked if the needed equipment has been slow, Allen said a better term to describe it is creeping.

"I wouldn't even call it slow," Allen said.

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