New Castle News

May 20, 2013

Are We Ready? Funds from all levels help prepare for disaster

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Local fire and police departments and ambulances services spend countless hours training to prepare for manmade or natural disasters.

This all breaks down to money for equipment, man hours and training costs.

And while Lawrence County’s emergency services work well with one another on various smaller incidents, the dollars spent to prepare for widescale incidents will tell the story if and when their training and preparation is put to the test.

Money funneled into fire departments from fire taxes, community donations and fundraisers goes into the equipment and training of members.


“There are various levels of costs for preparedness,” explained Brian Melcer, Lawrence County’s director of public safety.

Melcer oversees and coordinates the emergency responses for widespread incidents in the county.

Each municipality also has its own emergency management coordinator who plans for disaster response for his or her community, and they often plan together for countywide incidents. Some coordinators are paid by their respective municipalities, some are volunteers.

Local municipalities are responsible for training for their volunteer fire and police departments and for purchasing equipment such as water buffalos, generators and bottled water, as examples, Melcer said. That is all tax money.

County general fund money — made up largely of tax dollars — is used for training of 911 dispatchers and other personnel. Some county positions are funded partially or wholly with federal and state grant money.

“We also get grants for things such as hazardous materials response training,” Melcer pointed out, and those are state and federal monies.


Plus, Lawrence County receives an annual state grant for its role as a support county to Beaver County, should a nuclear accident occur at First Energy’s Beaver Valley Power Station at Shippingport.

Melcer said the county uses that funding, allocated under the Act 147 radiological preparedness act, for recalibrating dosimeters, radiological-specific training and purchasing other equipment.

In the event of a nuclear incident, the affected area of Beaver County would be evacuated and residents would be sent to support counties, which would open mass care centers. Those entering another county would go through a decontamination process.

County administrator Jim Gagliano noted that Lawrence County’s designated mass care centers would be at Mohawk and Union high schools and the Scottish Rite Cathedral.

The costs of an incident ultimately would be borne by First Energy, County Commissioner Dan Vogler noted.


Lawrence County also belongs to the Region 13 Task Force, a 13-county emergency response group. Melcer sits on its executive board of directors and is chairman of a regional network committee for sharing resources.

The task force formed in 1998, initially in response to terrorism preparedness. But in recent years its readiness has expanded to include any type of widespread incident, natural or manmade, “because it’s going to be the same people responding to a bomb or a flood or a building collapse,” Melcer said.

The counties share training, equipment and manpower in preparation for widespread incidents.

The task force is funded by money from the Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security, Melcer said, adding, “that money has seen big drops.”

According to Melcer, a big part of planned spending is having elected officials who understand emergency preparedness.

“A lot of smaller municipalities don’t understand what is involved until it happens to them.”

John Krueger, emergency management coordinator for Shenango Township, with the police and fire chiefs and supervisors, has organized an emergency management committee of about 20 volunteer residents and business owners who help in planning and acquiring resources in the event of a disaster.

The committee functions as a township emergency operations center and staffs a call center while Krueger and emergency responders are out in the field.

“In a major incident, if we need to deploy an operations center at the township building, we’d use those residents because it is their community,” he said.

In monthly training sessions, “We decide as a whole what we do and where can we get funding and services,” Krueger said.

He pointed out that each municipality is responsible for its own emergency plan. Krueger is working on updating Shenango’s, and it includes verbal or written contracts with local businesses and excavators, some of which donate services.

An example is township resident Richie Nesbit, who owns a portable toilet service and has a contract with the township.

“He doesn’t charge us,” Krueger said. “He does it for the community.”