Officials form emergency planning panel

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Monticello residents and emergency officials gathered in theCivil Defense Building Monday night to hold the firstorganizational meeting of the Lawrence County Local EmergencyPlanning Committee (LEPC).

The LEPC’s purpose is to boost emergency preparedness andplanning efforts by identifying and recording the existence ofhazardous chemicals in the community. Once the county’s LEPC isestablished and its members are trained through the MississippiEmergency Management Agency (MEMA), it will be able to provideinformation and assistance in case of a chemical fire or otheremergency.

LEPCs operate as volunteer extensions of MEMA. MEMA District 8Planner and state LEPC Coordinator Harrell Neal was in Monticelloto help the Lawrence County group get started.

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“In 1986, Congress said that every county in the United Statesand every Parish in Louisiana should have a LEPC,” Neal said.”Three years ago, there were 10 active LEPCs in Mississippi. Today,there are 42. There should be 80.”

Once the Lawrence County LEPC reviews and submits its by-laws toMEMA for approval, it will become activiated as the 43rd LEPC inthe state. It will then be ready to seek out and keep track of thecounty’s hazardous chemicals.

One of the tools that will be used to track the chemicals iscalled the “List of Lists,” a list of hazardous chemicals that maybe obtained from the EPA’s Web site ( Once the LEPClocates and identifies a facility that houses hazardous chemicals,it has a duty to inform MEMA and, most importantly, whichever firedepartment is responsible for responding to an emergency at thatlocation.

Once chemicals are identified through the “List of Lists,” theLEPC will be responsible for approaching the facility in questionand checking to see if the facility has signed a Tier 2, an EPAform that inventories chemicals.

“The Tier 2 form and the LEPC are more important to the firedepartments than anything else,” Neal said. “In that facility, youneed to know what chemicals they have, how much and where they’relocated for firefighting safety. If there is a chemical fire, youdon’t want your firefighters putting water on a fire that shouldhave foam or walking into a cloud of gas that could kill them.”

Neal pointed to chlorine as one of the most dangerous chemicalsthat could be found in a given community, but stressed that theLEPC should take note of all chemicals in every facility that maystore them, including smaller facilities like hardware stores. Hepointed out that smaller facilities that store small amounts ofchemicals are often overlooked and may not have followed through onTier 2 requirements.

In fact, Neal said only four facilities in Lawrence County haveTier 2 forms on record.

“They may not have a whole lot if it, but if they still have it,then that’s a potential hazard if there’s a fire,” he said. “InMississippi, we are playing Russian Roullette with these chemicals.The EPA says that you must report chemicals. In Arkansas andLouisiana, it’s state law that you must report the chemicals. InMississippi last year, 2,000 facilities reported their hazardouschemicals. In Louisiana, 10,500 reported in. Now, you know there’snot that much difference between us and Louisiana.”

The Lawrence County LEPC will be working to increase the numberof Tier 2 completions in the county, now that it is only one stepaway from being an official LEPC.

Monticello Volunteer Fire Department Chief Robert Patterson andOak Vale Fire Department member Shana Turnage collaborated tocreate a preliminary set of bylaws, which the new LEPC approvedlast night. Once those bylaws reach MEMA and are approved, theLawrence County LEPC will be on duty.

To prepare for the forthcoming duties, the group organizeditself by electing its first officers:

* Chairman – Michael Campbell, respiratory therpist.

* Vice chairman – Billy Ray Jenkins, Silver Creek EMT

* Treasurer – Stephanie Langston, Lawrence County Hospital ERmanager

* Secretary – Shana Turnage, Oak Vale Fire Department

* MEMA liason – Robert Patterson, Monticello Volunteer FireDepartment chief

Now that the Lawrence County LEPC has officers in place, it musttrain them, and grants are available for that purpose. Neal said 18LEPCs in the state have received grants of more than $60,000 tosend members to training.