DeKalb County EMA: County is not equipped to handle hazmat situations

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DEKALB COUNTY, Ala. – Several DeKalb County leaders got together Thursday afternoon for the all-hazards emergency planning workshop.

The quarterly workshop is held in order to get public input and update residents on hazard mitigation, emergency planning, and grant funding.

Emergency Management Agency officials discussed the current COVID-19 pandemic.

He said the plan they used for the coronavirus crisis was based on the Spanish Flu pandemic that started in 1918, but a lot of things are different now than they were then.

“We do natural hazards very well. We’re good at floods, we’re good at tornadoes, we’re good at hurricanes. We’re not there, but we face those threats all the time. A pandemic is something that comes once in a lifetime, once in a generation, so those planning assumptions have to be dealt with on the fly,” said Clifton.

They also discussed a hazards material commodity flow study.

The study showed that the county is not prepared for hazmat situations.

Clifton said the regional response team for DeKalb County is out of Huntsville, so if there were to be a hazmat situation, the county would have to wait at least 45 minutes for them to get on scene if the team is not working on anything else.

EMA Director Anthony Clifton said it is not a matter of if a hazmat situation will occur in the county, but when.

He said an extremely large amount of hazardous materials come through the county on trains and semi-trucks but did not specify how much. He said 6,500 tons of hazardous materials are stored on various sites within the county.

“We assess the threats that we believe are out there and we try to build capability to match those threats. And we have just, because it is not a high-frequency event, that is not something that we as a community have worked diligently to mitigate,” said Clifton.

The EMA recently worked on a plan to improve their capabilities in those situations and will need to test it out.

Clifton told WHNT News 19 that every dollar spent in mitigation is equivalent to saving $10 in recovery. 

Now that they have a plan, Clifton hopes to do a “tabletop” exercise in either September or October.

Testing was scheduled in February, but they cancelled it due to COVID-19.

They will then assess the plan and make improvements before moving to functional and full-scale exercises in a couple of years.

The next all hazards emergency planning workshop is scheduled for October 22, 2020.

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