Bertie seeks dedicated volunteers

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 11, 2003

WINDSOR – Bertie’s Local Emergency Planning Committee is seeking a handful of new members who want to serve their neighbors a few hours each year and expect no payment.

Committee Chairman Rickey Freeman, who also serves as Bertie County Emergency Management Coordinator, says the committee doesn’t need volunteers who just want their names on a list, but needs people dedicated to serving and protecting their community.

Some type of LEPC is required under 1986’s Title III of the Superfund Amendments and Authorization Act (SARA) to protect the public from effects of hazardous chemical accidents. Congress passed Title III because of concern about increasing numbers of hazardous materials accidents across the country. SARA’s regulations were developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and are based on experience of voluntary programs across the nation.

Freeman says Bertie’s LEPC plays a vital role in protecting citizens, property and the environment from potential harmful effects of a chemical accident. LEPC is responsible for gathering data about chemical hazards in the county; evaluating and updating existing plans for responding to emergencies; helping the public with access to information about chemicals in their communities and potential risks; and helping the public understand chemical hazards and how an emergency plan will help if accidents do occur.

&uot;The fundamental goal of Bertie County LEPC is to develop and improve Bertie County emergency plans, procedures and capabilities for responding to emergencies involving hazardous materials,&uot; Freeman said. &uot;Another goal is to encourage community understanding of this issue and greater involvement in the planning process. Better community involvement will provide a more informed public, which is an important factor in effectively managing the risks for hazardous materials.&uot;

LEPC works with local businesses to determine which chemicals are kept on site and how those chemicals are stored. If an accident or fire occurs, LEPC provides that information to the responding agency to help control the incident with the least amount of danger to the public. LEPC might determine that regional or state help should be called. The committee has also adopted a system which telephones hundreds of nearby residents or businesses within minutes if an accident occurs and evacuations are needed.

One LEPC study has determined which hazardous materials pass through the county daily and which highways are used for transportation. If a family moves into the area and has a child with respiratory problems, LEPC can provide information about contaminants in the area that could trigger medical problems. Emergency action guidelines adopted by LEPC offer procedures to be used in natural or manmade disasters such as gas leaks, earthquakes, floods, radiation, bomb threats, winter storms, hurricanes, severe thunderstorms/tornadoes and evacuation procedures/routes. These guidelines will be distributed to schools, hospitals, nursing homes, etc., and to individuals if they will contact Freeman at 794-5302.

Freeman would like to see relatively new subcommittees called CERTS, community emergency response teams, formed here to assist blind or deaf people in times of disaster. CERTS could have members from each community who know which people need outside help and funds are available to provide training, first aid kits and similar materials.

Some counties have formed regional LEPCs, but both Freeman and former Chairman Allen Castelloe would like to see Bertie retain its county agency.

&uot;We want to keep our Bertie County LEPC because nobody knows our area like our own people,&uot; Freeman said. &uot;This committee is not stagnant, we are always trying to fill our obligations and benefit residents of Bertie County. We can meet our own needs and if you enjoy doing this kind of thing, you won’t get paid, but you’ll really get personal benefits. Members have total input on what we do, the chairman just coordinates the meetings. This is not a one-person thing, everybody has equal weight,&uot; Freeman said.

Besides state and local officials, LEPC membership must include representatives from law enforcement, fire service, civil defense/emergency management, public health, environmental affairs, hospital, Dept. of Transportation, media, agriculture, media and citizen/community. Slots on the committee that are open now are mostly in the citizen/community group. The committee meets quarterly at lunchtime, unless a special gathering is needed. Any volunteer who feels he/she could be beneficial to Bertie County is asked to call Freeman at 794-5302.