MOUNT VERNON — The Local Emergency Planning Committee is comprised of representatives from agencies across the county which are charged with developing an emergency response plan for chemical hazard situations. It consists of over 25 people representing law enforcement, fire departments, emergency management, the county commissioners, health care and community organizations, among others.
In order to plan for an emergency involving a chemical spill, the LEPC keeps records regarding chemical facilities and the storing of chemicals in the county. Brian Hess, Knox County EMA interim director, said copies of records for several facilities in the county are kept in files, which are kept in the EMA director’s vehicle.
“There is a command center in the EMA vehicle so we know what area is going to be affected by a chemical,” Hess said.
The information allows EMA staff and first responders to diagram, while en route to a spill, what area could be affected by hazardous chemicals.
County fire chiefs also have copies of the files so they have the information at their fingertips while responding to a chemical situation or a fire at a chemical facility.
Hess said that besides chemical facilities and industrial buildings where chemical are stored, fuel storage locations, some large farms which use large quantities of chemicals such as anhydrous ammonia, and health care facilities are examples of some of the sites which must register with the LEPC.
Each location is categorized, depending on whether it stores chemicals classified as hazardous or extremely hazardous. If a registered facility has a spill, it must report it to LEPC.
“They are responsible to report a spill to us within a certain amount of time, depending on the chemical and the environment,” Hess said.
Any spill the EMA responds to is automatically reported to the LEPC.
“If they don’t report it, we go through the EPA and the Ohio Emergency Commission to act as needed,” he said.
In recent years, the LEPC has responded to fuel spills, and a situation where a canister of nerve gas was found and secured in the county.
Hess said he will soon begin making site visits to the registered locations. This, he said, allows the LEPC and EMA to be better prepared for emergencies, and also earns state and federal dollars for each completed inspection.
“I will contact the fire chief in each jurisdiction and we can coorespond efforts to inspect each site so we can verify what the person has filed corresponds to what’s at the facility,” Hess said.
After a spill, the LEPC pursues reimbursement for the cleanup by the responsible party. If necessary, Hess said, this can be done through the county prosecutor’s office and the courts.
Hess said the LEPC meets for public meetings quarterly, with the dates advertised in the Mount Vernon News. He encouraged interested community members to attend the meetings.
One of the most complex responsibilities the committee is charged with, Hess said, is conducting exercises or drills each year.
“There is a four-year cycle where each year you have to do a different kind of exercise,” Hess explained. He said this year’s exercise will be a full-scale drill.