By Jon Schroeder

The Cove Herald

GATESVILLE — Standing in Coryell County Courthouse district courtroom, Phil Yarbrough talked pandemics.

As Coryell County’s Emergency Management Coordinator, Yarbrough is the chairman of the newly-revived Coryell County Local Emergency Planning Committee, which held its first meeting Nov. 15.

In attendance were about 30 local government officials, emergency service heads, hospital representatives and concerned citizens who came out to start the process of finding potential security threats and deal with them.

The committee, mandated by the 1986 Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, hasn’t been active since 2002. While that federal law requires that LEPCs be set up across the United States to plan for chemical threats and report hazardous substances transfers, Coryell County’s new LEPC has greatly expanded its goals: it will look at all types of potential disasters, whether they’re biological, chemical, nuclear or weather-related. The goal is to plan appropriate reactions to many different threats — including a flu pandemic, foremost in many Americans’ minds.

“Right now the biggest push tends to be the pandemic response,” Yarbrough said, noting that the committee will operate without a budget, at least in the near future.

According to Texas Department of Health State Services documentation, over the last 400 years there have been 32 documented worldwide outbreaks of influenza, the most recent occurring in 1918, 1957 and 1968: three influenza pandemics occur on average each century. Texas began its current influenza pandemic planning process at the state level in 2002.

County Judge John Firth, who helped Yarbrough lead the meeting, cautioned that neither he nor Yarbrough wanted to “overstate anything,” but each spoke about several other possible threats, including the proximity of Fort Hood and the possibility that it could be targeted by terrorists.

But in addition to the committee’s new goals, the Coryell LEPC will be fulfilling its lawful purpose, looking into hazardous chemical distribution and transportation. According to an informal study conducted by Yarbrough, roughly 10,000 pounds of hazardous materials pass through Gatesville on Highway 84 every six hours.

Perhaps just as important as assessing threats, another of the goals of the committee is to communicate well. On a technical level, that means assessing communications equipment to ensure interoperability between area cities, counties and Fort Hood. On a more personal note, it means building relationships between city officials, county officials and residents who can be effective in managing an emergency situation.

“We are all tied into this together at the hip,” Firth said. “We understand we’re not where we need to be.”

Contact Jon Schroeder at jons@kdhnews.com or call (254) 547-0428

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