Instructions on handling emergencies ending today

Published 12:04 pm Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mississippi Emergency Management officials were expected to tie up loose ends today with more instructions on a countywide emergency management plan for Vicksburg and Warren County.

Two days of point-by-point instruction from the state two weeks ago nailed down most responses from local government during major storms and chemical accidents, such as firefighting, handling hazardous materials and search and rescue capability. Talks came days after Mayor Paul Winfield proposed to dissolve the city’s emergency management department in streamlining efforts.

Today’s workshop with the state and city legal and planning department officials will deal with duties during natural gas and utility-related incidents, as well as housekeeping points like nonprofit coordination and types of disasters the final draft will specify, Warren County Emergency Management Director Gwen Coleman said.

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The overall plan is expected to keep the county as primary contact with MEMA during large-scale emergencies, with appropriate coordination with the city depending on the incident. Vicksburg Fire Chief Charles Atkins was retained as a liaison to the county for incidents with hazardous materials. Current city emergency management director Anna Booth is a secondary liaison and is expected to be in an administrative role in the new plan.

Both local governing bodies plan to discuss the plan at length in January before approval, expected a month later at the earliest. Grants for personnel and equipment were held up this year because no comprehensive report had been finalized, though supervisors did sign off Monday to act as a conduit for a $31,115 grant to finance a backup generator for the Yokena Jeff Davis Water District. The district will match 5 percent of the grant. Coleman said the money was part of a hazard mitigation grant program left over from pools of funds made available after Hurricane Katrina and wasn’t contingent on completion of the comprehensive response plan.

An emergency management department was created within city government in 2007 by former mayor Laurence Leyens, who had criticized the county and state’s response to Katrina. In its budget for 2010-11, the city allocated $108,498 to the entity. Warren County budgeted to kick in $147,466 for emergency management from the general fund this year, with other capabilities funded by federal and state grants.