BY ALEX KING
More than 20 residents, first responders, and county and municipal officials attended the Tyler County Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) meeting on Thursday, Oct. 3. LEPC meetings are scheduled for 9 a.m. on the first Thursday of every month at the Sistersville Fire Hall and are open to anyone interested in community safety.
Public alert systems became the primary focus of discussion. Sistersville Councilman Colin Marrin referenced the emergency situation created by the storm last summer.
"I was waiting for the siren to go off, and I was a little surprised we didn't have one," he said.
He said that when he later spoke with Sistersville City Commissioner Daniel Grimes, he discovered that the town does have a siren. However, it may need rewiring and additional funding to get it up and running again.
"We've got Route 2, railroad tracks, and the river," he said, noting the potential for hazardous material spills.
LEPC Cochairman Tom Cooper said that LEPC can assist the city with getting the siren, which was previously used to signal city curfew and fire calls, back to a functioning status as an alert system.
"It's a project we need to stay focused on," he said.
The committee and officials then spoke of potential locations for the omnidirectional siren, agreeing that the remote-triggered system would be beneficial at a place accessible by first responders and city employees.
Cooper mentioned that an alert system by the name of Nixle has been generating some talk. Nixle is a public information warning system that reaches out to users registered on their website. It sends any kinds of messages people want to receive to their cell phones or email addresses. Many of Nixle's services are reportedly free.
The group also discussed FEMA's Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), which gathers different types of emergency alerts. Any time an emergency warning is generated for a local area, IPAWs will kick in, capture that information and distribute it to the widest dissemination.
"It starts at a federal level," said Cooper. "The president can actually trigger a warning, and if it's triggered from his offices, all modern cell phones light up. The new phones come pre-engaged. If you have a new phone and we trigger this system, you'll get it, unless you turn it off."
He said that a person must be certified in order to put notices into the system.
Cooper updated the committee about using Tyler County High School's radio station to broadcast alerts during emergencies.
"The best way I can see to do this is to use the school FM station," he said. "It's a 24-hour station."
He discussed the possibility of moving the Emergency Alert System (EAS) to the tower site and explained the advantages.
"If we move that device to the tower site, we don't have to go into the school (in the event of a power outage)," he said. "We don't have to get the generator running at the school. All we have to do is light the tower up with the generator."
The station could be run from the Office of Emergency Management using an internet connection; they could control the EAS box from there in order to make scheduled announcements to keep the public at large updated.
"The station would run normal day to day, but if everything goes down, it would allow us to broadcast without powering the whole school," he said.
As for the generator that would light the tower, he said they were still looking for sponsors.
Kenny Harris, head of Wood County Emergency Communications, offered to assist with the setup of the EAS system at the site of the tower.
Preparing to submit the LEPC's updated bylaws to the Tyler County Commission for approval, Cooper offered to let anyone in the group read them and offer suggestions. Several members volunteered, and each one will receive a copy for review.
Member Al Tuttle noted that, in accordance with the bylaws, it only takes two members to establish a quorum for an LEPC meeting. He suggested that the low, even number may cause conflicts if two people meet and have a disagreement about an action.
Cooper stated that most actions would be taken in a regularly scheduled meeting, at which time the attendance should be greater than two members. However, the number of members to establish a quorum will be reconsidered.
The updated bylaws are expected to be approved at a Tyler County Commission meeting in the near future.
Member Sarah Smith informed the group that the Amateur Radio Organization would be meeting Oct. 8 at 7 p.m. at the residence of Ray Gorrell in Middlebourne. Karen Cain of Wetzel-Tyler Health Department reported that their public meeting was held on Sept. 9 at St. Paul's Methodist Church in Paden City.
Cooper stated that the annual Emergency Response Drill at Momentive will be held on Oct. 26. The LEPC has been invited to participate. Participation in such events helps the group to meet state grant requirements.
In other news: the pipeline training dinner held in Mineral Wells was a reported success, with about 200 people showing up; the Sheriff's Department is looking for an entrance point for their boat, which was purchased years ago using a grant from Homeland Security; and volunteers were invited to handle any possible emergency communications at an upcoming cross country race.
Breakfast was sponsored by Noble Energy and prepared by the Sistersville Ladies Fire Auxiliary. Next meeting's breakfast will be sponsored by First Energy.