Fulton County is taking steps to become better organized and prepared in the event of a disaster, including participating in a national drill in May of 2011.
Dec. 16 marked the 199th anniversary of one of the largest earthquakes ever to strike the United States. The earthquake took place in the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ), the site of several of the largest earthquakes to ever strike the continental United States and an area that remains a significant risk today. On December 16, 1811, the first of these quakes struck what is now the location of Memphis, Tenn., at a level nine intensity. The impacts were felt as far away as Washington, D.C. and Ohio. By the time the final quake occurred on February 7, 1812, in New Madrid, Mo., the shaking had forced sand to erupt at the surface, triggered landslides and caused ground elevation changes over large areas.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will begin a concerted effort to encourage all Americans to prepare for earthquakes and other disasters by making a New Year's resolution to "Resolve to be Ready" in 2011. Fulton County has taken steps to be a part of that movement by establishing a Local Emergency Preparedness Committee (LEPC).
At the first meeting of the LEPC held on Wednesday, Dec. 15, OEM Director for Fulton County Darrell Zimmer explained the importance of the committee to the assembled participants.
"We have to be able to prepare our emergency operation plan for the county, review it and practice it to make sure that everything in it works before a disaster strikes," said Zimmer. "We have a pretty diverse crowd here and each one of you is here because you play a very important role in an emergency."
Representatives from the media, fire departments, police and sheriff departments, NAEC, Fulton County Hospital, Fulton County Health Department and local organizations such as the Fulton County Fair Board and local churches were represented.
Zimmer explained that the current Emergency Operations plan in place for the county was being rewritten to better fit with the resources currently available in the county.
Zimmer went on to explain how Fulton County would be participating in the national level exercise in May.
"In Fulton County, what we'll be focusing on are communications and sheltering," said Zimmer. "In the exercise scenario, which is based on an earthquake occurring along the New Madrid fault, we lose all communications. So in our county, we'll switch to our back-ups. We'll put up our mobile command unit; we'll try to use that just to see if it works. Sheltering is something else we're going to do. We have our three trailers in the county: one in Mammoth Spring, one in Viola and one here in Salem that have the cots and other shelter materials. We'll receive a piece of paper telling us how many "people" to expect and we'll have to sort out how to handle them."
The county is required to participate in the drill for six hours in order to continue to receive funding for the LEPC.
"We also have to come up with a plan to be without electricity for 60 days. That's how long individuals could be without electricity, depending on the strength of the quake and how it might affect the power grid and the transmission lines that feed our area," said Zimmer. "Those of you who have run shelters know that you need people to help staff them and you need security to keep everyone there safe. We'll do some specific shelter-type training in the future and we'll get people in who have done this and can help us set these up correctly," said Zimmer.
Experts from agencies such as the American Red Cross will come to assist the committee with important aspects of the emergency plan.
"This is very important to Fulton County," said Fulton County Judge Charles Willett. "You all know in '09 what happened during the ice storm. This is a really good thing, for us to get prepared like this. I appreciate everyone coming out and participating in this process."
At the meeting, the group focused on passing by-laws for the committee and electing four key positions: Chairperson (Darrell Zimmer), two Vice-Chairpersons (Charlene Crowl and Bro. Allen Cartwright) and a Secretary (Niki de Soto).
The next meeting of the LEPC has been set for Jan. 14 at 11:30 a.m. at the Miller-Hickinbotham building at the Fulton County Fairgrounds and the public is welcome to attend.