County to share in security funding

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 30, 2003

Lawrence County has received $111,750 of Ohio's $17.5 million share of U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant.

According to release from Gov. Bob Taft's office, Ohio's federal homeland security grant will be used for planning, exercises, training and equipment at the state, county and local levels. Counties submit budget spending plans to the Ohio Emergency Management Agency outlining what they anticipate to purchase with the funds. The state then presents to the Department of Homeland Security. Once plans are processed and approved, the federal government will release the funds.

Before this grant money is spent, the county will first have to spend two other Homeland Security grants it has received, Don Mootz, executive director of Lawrence County Emergency Services, said.

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The first grant that the county has received, one for $36,482, will be used to improve communications throughout the county, Mootz said. This will likely include improving communications in remote areas of the county as well as interagency communications, meaning that different emergency service agencies can communicate at the same time. The second grant is for approximately $84,000.

How this new grant will be spent is the decision of the Threat Risk Needs Committee for Domestic Preparedness and Homeland Security, comprised of 24 people that include law enforcement officials, mayors, township trustees, the county's Emergency Management Agency, 911, The Local Emergency Planning Committee, health departments, public works, emergency medical services, the Community Action Organization, the coroner and animal control. The committee will meet June 6.

"It's broad coverage of the entire county," Mootz said.

Even though Lawrence County may not be the most likely place for terrorists to attack, the county still needs to be prepared, he said.

"We need to keep our eyes open," he said. "There are areas that could be a target, and we need to be alert. We can't just turn our heads."

Because Lawrence County is located near industrial areas such as chemical plants and oil refineries, officials need to be prepared, County Commissioner Jason Stephens said.

Once the county receives this grant money, Stephens said he anticipates more training for emergency situations will take place as well as more programs such as October 2002's Ohio State Capability Assessment for Readiness (OSCAR). In this program, emergency service officials, as well as leaders of business and civic organizations, met to discuss emergency management capability and identify areas in which improvement is needed.

Currently, the United States and the State of Ohio are under a "High" level of homeland security alert, which uses the color code of orange. Some activities that may take place are the coordination of necessary security efforts with armed forces or law enforcement agencies or taking additional precautions during public events.

This is step below the highest level of alert, "Severe," which uses the color code of red. A severe alert may entail assigning emergency response personnel and pre-positioning specially trained teams and closing government and public facilities.