NEW HANOVER COUNTY – More than two dozen government agencies from Pender and New Hanover counties, several local municipalities, and private business partners from across the region came together at the Wilmington Convention Center on Feb. 3 for the first conference of the New Hanover and Pender Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC).
The event was an opportunity for officials in the public and private sectors to discuss, review and develop a deeper understanding of the needs and strategies necessary to collaborate and successfully navigate an emergency, should it arise.
“Working together when a disaster happens, whether it’s a natural event or something caused by human error, is so important to keep our communities safe. This was a chance to really dive into what that looks like,” said New Hanover County Emergency Management Technician and event conference coordinator Teresa Smith. “In Southeastern North Carolina, we know a lot about hurricanes and flooding, but those aren’t the only type of disasters that could potentially impact our area. Being prepared for an array of events and scenarios is so critical to safety.”
The conference opened with a welcome by Pender County Chairman David Piepmeyer who stressed the importance of regional collaboration. The event was bookended by two speakers who drove home the importance of being prepared. Charleston firefighter Dr. David Griffin opened the day with an emotional presentation about the 2007 fire at a furniture store in Charleston that left nine firefighters dead and how that moment reshaped the training and skill development of firefighters in the city and across the country. Pender County Fire Marshall Mark Haraway closed the gathering by discussing his role as Fire Chief and Emergency Management director for the town of Apex during a chemical fire back in 2007 at the Environmental Quality Industrial Services plant that made international headlines.
In between those presentations, more than 200 attendees heard from and asked questions of local and state health officials, staff at General Electric, the National Weather Service, community service providers and others about things to consider when developing plans for a major event.
“Hearing from people who have lived through these types of catastrophic events truly drives home just how crucial it is to be prepared and have those open lines of communication between our public and private partners in the LEPC,” said Pender County Emergency Management Director Tommy Batson. “We certainly hope this training and these partnerships are something we never have to call upon, but we also know it could be the thing that leads to a decision that saves someone’s life.”
Partners in the LEPC include New Hanover County Emergency Management, Pender County Emergency Management, City of Wilmington Emergency Management, Town of Carolina Beach, New Hanover County Commissioners Office (with Commissioner Jonathan Barfield, Jr. serving as the representative), New Hanover County Public Health, New Hanover County Fire Rescue, City of Wilmington Fire Department, Pender County Health Department, UNCW Emergency Management, NC Emergency Management, NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources, NC Department of Environmental Quality, NC Department of Transportation, US Coast Guard, Acme Smoked Fish, Airgas, Alcami, American Red Cross, Buckeye Terminal, Colonial Terminal, Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, Celanese, Corning, Duke Energy Sutton Plant, Elementis, GE/ GE Hitachi, HEPACO, Kinder Morgan, NC State Port Authority, Novant Health NHRMC, Piedmont Natural Gas, Praxair, SeaSafety, SR&R Environmental, Stepan, and Sturdy Corporation.
The LEPC is responsible for SARA Title III environmental compliance, HAZMAT training and exercises, site-specific chemical planning programs, coordination of chemical information to emergency responders, and maintenance of the county-wide HAZMAT Incident Management Plan.
Conference planning staff included representatives from New Hanover County Emergency Management, Pender County Emergency Management, New Hanover County Fire Rescue, City of Wilmington Fire, City of Wilmington Emergency Management, American Red Cross, and New Hanover County Public Health.