NEW CUMBERLAND - Hancock County's emergency preparedness efforts are getting a boost from the state this year to the tune of $100,000.
For the county to qualify for the Emergency Management Performance Grant, it first must spend $9,500 to study the threats and hazards that are out there.
"We've been seeing more and more in terms of shootings in malls and movie theaters and schools, and our community is not immune to those types of things," said Thomas Zielinsky, executive director of the county's Office of Technology and Communications. "We want to be prepared for a catastrophic type of thing."
Hancock County commissioners recently hired JH Consulting, of Buckhannon, to do the study, which will cover both natural and man-made threats. The study must be done by Sept. 30, although some information must be submitted to the state by April 30 in order for the county to be in compliance with the grant requirements.
The assessment is a step-by-step process designed to identify hazards to which the county is susceptible and "analyze overall vulnerability through the context of scenarios for each of those hazards," consultant Jeffery Harvey wrote in a letter to John Paul Jones, director of the Hancock County Office of Emergency Management.
Harvey said his company will work in cooperation with a local committee to develop a table of hazards, each accompanied by a most probable scenario and a worst-case scenario.
From there, the consultant will study the best possible outcomes to those emergencies and how well-prepared Hancock County is to respond to them.
"It's an all-encompassing assessment, but now it's based on new threats," Zielinsky said, noting the last such study was done two years ago. "It's critical for us to make sure the threat assessment is done correctly."
Hancock County first-responders, including fire departments and police departments, hold a drill every year to test the county's emergency preparedness plans. Every two years, the drill is graded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"There's all kinds of different threats to the environment," Zielinsky said. "We try to stay on top of these and have preparedness plans that we review with EMS, law enforcement and fire departments, so that when we initiate a particular call, these agencies will be pre-trained in how to respond."
Zielinsky said the county applies for the emergency management grant every year but this is the largest grant the county has ever received from the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. The money will help cover the cost of training materials, training classes and drills, including trainer salaries, and public education efforts, he said.
It also will help offset the Hancock County commissioners' contribution to the OEM's annual budget, Zielinsky said.
Because of Hancock County's close proximity to the Beaver Valley Power Station, the FirstEnergy nuclear power plant in Shippingport, Pa., a portion of the county OEM's budget is subsidized by FirstEnergy in two-year cycles, he said.
FirstEnergy's grant covers about 65 percent of the budget, with Hancock County covering the balance, Zielinsky said.
"Any grants that we get ... go toward reducing the county's liability to that (OEM) budget," he said.
A large portion of Hancock County lies within FirstEnergy's emergency planning zone for the nuclear power plant. The zone covers a 10-mile radius around the plant and also encompasses portions of Beaver County, Pa., and Columbiana County, Ohio.
In the event of a nuclear-related emergency, people living within that 10-mile radius would have to be evacuated or otherwise protected from potential exposure to radioactive materials, according to FirstEnergy's 2012 emergency preparedness book.
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