County-wide emergency event set for Friday

 

 

 

 

By Glynis Crawford Smith

The Highlander

Anyone driving by the Burnet Community Center next Friday, Oct. 6, might think a major emergency is in progress.

It will be, but it will be a staged event to make sure response to an actual event goes like clockwork.

“We will be conducting a tabletop disaster exercise,” said Jim Barho, emergency management coordinator for Burnet County. “Wednesday's gas leak on US 281 and last weeks major fire on Starlight Drive off Texas 29 that called for air support and Texas Forest Service bulldozers are perfect examples that we have emergency situations in this county almost every week.

“But this exercise will call on every aspect of our emergency response.”

No one will know what the event will be at the outset or how each new development will add a layer of response. But,. by the time it is over, every law enforcement agency, fire department, emergency medical service team, nursing home, hospital and trained community volunteer group will know how they might be called upon.

“We expect about 110 members of various departments to be here,” said Barho. “They will include representatives of state organizations like the Department of Public Safety (DPS), the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), the Department of Health and Human Services and the Capital Area Planning Council of Governments (CAPCOG).”

The whole operation is costly and made possible by a $75,000 grant from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

“The grant has provided for some equipment purchases also,” Barho said. “The electronic sign that re-directed traffic during the Marble Falls gas leak is an example.”

“As we go through the project, each new problem injected will involve more people. That's what the table top is about.

“It lets responders get to know faces, to meet one another personally and have a working relationship when they need it. Our fire, EMS and law enforcement work together every day, but they don't always get to work with state agencies, nursing homes and hospital staff.”

When a real emergency is in progress, there is no stopping for signing in participants, taking breaks or stopping for meals. The Burnet County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), emergency-trained civilians will be taking care of those jobs.

It is true that this is a Local emergency Plan Committee (LEPC) state requirement, but Barho said it shows also that Burnet County Commissioners and law enforcement are committed to education to respond to emergency and hazardous materials events.

“You may not realize it but hazardous materials are everywhere,” said Barho. “You find them in grocery and feed stores, at the corner gas station, on railways and in every big truck you see in front of you with one of those hazardous materials labels on it.

“We need to be aware how those are safely stored and transported.”

Barho said that counties like Burnet and Blanco don't have the manpower, training or funding for the most sophisticated explosive or hazardous material response teams. For that, small counties rely on Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives (CBRNE) teams assembled by the combine forces of the 10 counties of CAPCO and Fort Hood or San Antonio military installations.

Before the arrival of hazmat teams in the appropriate protective gear and monitoring equipment to keep them safe, local first responders have their hands full with evacuation, notification, treatment and notification.

“The public has a right to know when their safety is at risk,” said Barho. “We would use social media and broadcast media to get the word out immediately and go door to door to let people know.”

That is another reason Barho is working to get the word out about the training.

“With the world the way it is today and some of the emergencies we have seen lately, we don't want anyone to worry Friday when they see all the first responders at 401 East Jackson Sttret in Burnet: It is only a drill—a big one.

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