Coryell County emergency planning committee meets
By LYNETTE SOWELL
In the event of a chemical spill or other disaster, the Local Emergency Planning Committee of Coryell County is continuing its efforts to make the public aware that there’s a plan in place to respond.
Last Thursday, members of the local LEPC gathered at the Copperas Cove Fire Department to discuss areas in which they can keep residents and others informed, in the event of an emergency.
Bob Harrell, the emergency management coordinator for Coryell County, led the meeting and talked about how having LEPCs came about after a 1984 disaster in Bhopal, India, when a gas leak from a Union Carbide India Limited tank caused thousands of deaths.
“The EPA noted we needed to have something in the United States for chemical contamination, for chemical spills. It’s the right to know what’s in our community,” Harrell said. “They developed a program through FEMA and the EPA to manage at the grassroots community level, to do planning committees to plan for chemical spills or some kind of a disaster in the area from chemical or petroleum contaminants.”
One thing that’s required of businesses which use and store items that contain chemicals and contaminants is to report to the LEPC what types of chemicals they have, particularly something Harrell called “tier II assets.”
Facilities file chemical reports with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) but they must also file locally. Harrell said his office will receive inventory reports from businesses and entities like Fort Hood, which has primarily petroleum products; the telephone company, which has numerous batteries, which contain a lot of acid; and local water corporations, which use chlorine gas.
The LEPC also has its eye on key transportation routes in Coryell County, to include the railroad, I-14/Highway 190 on the south side. Harrell said that a large chemical spill, even on the railroad, would cut off Copperas Cove and include shutting down I-14. On the north side of the county, a major fuel spill in the area of Highways 36 and 84 in Gatesville, could shut down everything coming and going into that city from places like Waco, Belton, and Temple.
“We’ve got some major corridors in Coryell County—maybe not as major as what I-35 is through Bell County, but it would still be devastating to people and to commerce in this area,” Harrell said.
Harrell and the committee discussed that the area will be losing its Lampasas hazardous materials technician team. There are other teams in the area, including Killeen, Temple, as well as Fort Hood. Copperas Cove does not have a certified hazardous materials team, nor the suits—which are expensive.
Harrell said TCEQ oversees the LEPC program and it also administrates grants that are issued to LEPCs and local agencies.
Harrell is holding another meeting on Aug. 2 in Gatesville at the commissioners’ courtroom at the county’s Main Street annex, during which he’ll discuss emergency planning for the local area.
“It’s not so much for chemical hazards, but a planning workshop. How do we do emergency planning? I’m going to invite just about anybody who wants to come in,” Harrell said.
The committee members present organized themselves into groups that will plan for outreach with companies, schools, and businesses to focus on hazard mitigation and get other groups involved in the planning process locally.
Approximately 10 LEPC members attended last Thursday’s meeting, to include individuals like Mark Peterson with Fort Hood Emergency Management; Deputy Fire Chief Gary Young, the City of Copperas Cove’s Emergency Management Coordinator; as well as Texas Department of Health Services personnel and local resident volunteers. The group will plan to hold meetings quarterly, which are open to the public.
LEPCs develop an emergency response plan, review the plan annually at a minimum, and they also provide information about chemicals in the community to citizens. LEPC membership includes local citizen volunteers, and Harrell stressed that by volunteering, it doesn’t mean citizens will need to “suit up” in hazmat gear. It’s a way to help keep the public informed. LEPC members include elected officials, as well as first responders, public health personnel, representatives of businesses and community groups, along with the media.