Grants aid local plans for security

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 12, 2003

Not a day goes by that Sparky Evans doesn’t think about Sept. 11, 2001.

&uot;I think about those planes going into those towers every day,&uot; the Vidalia resident said.

Although 18 months have passed since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, but that doesn’t mean the anxiety is gone. And with U.S. troops involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the nation is still on &uot;high alert&uot; for terrorist activity.

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But being on higher alert also means higher costs for the added security. Both Concordia Parish and Adams County will receive federal money to offset the cost of protection.

Personal protection

Much of the money Adams County receives will go toward personal protection equipment &045; PPEs &045; said George Souderes, recently named homeland security director for the county.

The equipment will protect law enforcement and emergency workers in the event of a chemical or biological attack, he said.

Adams County will be able to draw on two grants for homeland security &045; a $54,000 grant split between the city and county for PPEs and a $258,000 grant to be used in conjunction with an emergency response team for a nine-county area.

&uot;This is the regional response team for weapons of mass destruction,&uot; Souderes said.

That team will be based in Adams County. The $258,000 grant will go toward personal protection equipment and equipment to detect chemical or biological agents.

&uot;If it wasn’t for that (money), we, wouldn’t be able to get it from anywhere else,&uot; Natchez Fire Chief Paul Johnson said. &uot;To set up response teams is very expensive because of the type equipment you have to have. That includes equipment to search out explosive devices, detection equipment, decontamination equipment, physical security equipment, medical supplies and logistical support equipment.&uot;

Equipment, protective suits and literature are just some of the ways the Concordia Office of Emergency Preparedness is using a $103,000 grant for homeland security.

The firefighters of Vidalia Fire Station will be receiving protective suits that will totally protect the body in any situation.

Vidalia firefighters have been training for the past two years in handling hazardous materials and now have six men on technician level &045; the highest level, according to Fire Chief Jack Langston.

&uot;We’re one of the only agencies trained to this level,&uot; Langston said.

Vidalia Fire Department was one such entity designated to receive funding for such equipment based on their qualifications and location, said Morris White, director of the Concordia Office of Emergency Preparedness.

The U.S. Justice Department dispersed grants for homeland security to all 50 states and the Louisiana State Police is the entity handling Louisiana’s grant.

White said each entity in Concordia Parish was asked what equipment was needed in regards to be prepared for terrorism attacks. An equipment list was compiled and sent to the state police.

The funds will not be dispersed in a check form to White’s office but rather to the company supplying the equipment.

Education and teamwork

Last week, White’s office furnished each emergency department in Concordia with booklets on how to answer the public’s questions on what to do under certain conditions.

Each emergency office is also receiving a master plan on how to deal with disasters that will now include a section on terrorism.

&uot;We need a coordinated effort to take care of this,&uot; White said.

Souderes said he’s glad Mississippi’s homeland security plan calls for regional teams.

&uot;I like it because we’re all going to work together,&uot; he said.

Law enforcement and emergency officials from the nine-county area in southwest Mississippi have had some training sessions and are planning for more.

And Adams County officials will have to learn to work without one member of the team. International Paper’s emergency management workers have been a large part of the response team locally.

&uot;In our case, we don’t have to re-invent the wheel, but we have to look at shoring up the wheels,&uot; Souderes said.

New threat

The homeland security grants will help with equipment and training, but Souderes noted that the equipment &045; which must be from a federally approved list &045; is expensive.

Still, he said, &uot;that’s the new world everybody’s looking at.&uot;

As far as the threat level for Concordia Parish, White said, &uot;our risk here, if I was going from one to 10, is probably a four or five.

&uot;We really don’t have anything in or parish as a threat to the infrastructure,&uot; White said. &uot;The only threat we have something to do with is the locks and damns, the levees, bridges or hydroelectric plant.&uot;

&uot;As far as anything in the parish that would be national security, its just not here,&uot; he said.

While most of the threats the nation has seen are for targets in major cities, some residents think the Miss-Lou isn’t out of danger.

&uot;Some people think just because we’re a small town that nothing will happen, but it can happen anywhere,&uot; Catina Sims of Natchez said.

City Editor Nita McCann contributed to this report.