Combined plan for emergencies tops first hurdle

Published 12:05 pm Thursday, December 9, 2010

Two full days of Mississippi Emergency Management Agency-led talks have completed a countywide emergency response plan and placed it on the doorstep for approval next month.

City of Vicksburg and Warren County officials met with Mississippi Emergency Management Agency to draft a comprehensive joint emergency response plan that gives the county direct oversight in case of a major storm, chemical accident or other disaster.

The plan is scheduled to be discussed in January by the City of Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen and separately by the Warren County Board of Supervisors. Both boards would have to OK the agreement for it to be approved.

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Saying it is part of his efforts to streamline city operations, Mayor Paul Winfield had proposed amending the city’s role as a direct contact for MEMA in the event of an emergency. But, he said, he wants the city to retain control of fire and police operations within city limits.

“I believe prior arrangements caused confusion, and it was redundant,” he said at the workshop.

Both city aldermen have said they would support the comprehensive plan if it aligns with requirements by homeland security and closely with the city’s current plan, which designates Emergency Management Director Anna Booth as the city’s contact with MEMA.

“It all depends on the agreements we work out,” South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman said Wednesday. “That was the problem we’ve had in the past.”

In 2007, then-Mayor Laurence Leyens created an emergency management department after criticizing the county and the state for not having adequate response plans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The city’s emergency management department is run by Booth and resources are pulled from other departments, including information technology and public works.

The drafting process included changes in language to reflect the county as the primary contact to MEMA with coordination from city resources.

The plan called for modifications in 15 emergency support functions that include transportation, communication, public works and engineering, firefighting, emergency management, mass care, housing and human services, resource support, public health and medical services, search and rescue, oil and hazardous material, animal agriculture and natural resources, Entergy, public safety and security, long term recovery and external affairs.

Modifications include designating Warren County Emergency Management Director Gwen Coleman to serve as the coordinator for all response emergency plans, and the city will appoint liaisons to Coleman. Officials said they likely will be Fire Chief Charles Atkins as primary and Booth as secondary.

Booth, who declined to comment, also will serve in the administrative role in the new plan.

“This is a coordinated effort,” said Coleman, who was appointed to the position in 2006. “We’re moving forward to work together, but there will be bumps in the road as time goes on.”

MEMA Director Mike Womack said he is “happy” to see city and county work on a joint plan.

“What we really hope for is that the city partner with the county and they develop a cooperative partnership,” he said by phone from the Gulf Coast. “City and county working together is the most effective way of doing things.”

The drafted plan will also include mutual-aid agreements between the city and county boards on funding.

Currently, the city has allocated $108,498 of the current $31.3 million city budget to its emergency management department.

Coleman estimated the county’s emergency spending at about $300,000 annually with partial funding from state and federal grants.