Thursday, May 23, 2002

Hazmat funding awaits response

$500,000 earmarked for anti-terror readiness

By Ray Schaefer
Enquirer contributor

        NEWPORT — Some $500,000 in federal money to train and equip local hazardous materials response teams is sitting in Frankfort waiting for someone in Northern Kentucky to pick it up — nine months after the Sept. 11 attacks.

        Campbell County Fiscal Court took a first step toward obtaining the funds this week by appointing Emergency Management Director Ken Knipper to a board of directors consisting of representatives of Boone, Campbell, Kenton, Pendleton, Grant, Owen, Gallatin and Carroll counties.

        “The reason for the board of directors is to determine how we will respond to chemical spill and terrorist events,” said Rick Watkins, manager of the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management Area 7 office in Walton.

        It is not known when the other counties will consider the matter.

        Mr. Knipper said the money would be used to train and equip emergency workers. He said the board would consist of representatives of police, fire, emergency management and health departments as well as hospitals in each county.

        The $500,000 is part of a $3 million U.S. Department of Justice contribution that will be used to train and equip 14 hazardous material/weapons of mass destruction teams statewide.

        Mr. Watkins said statewide terrorist response plans have been in place since December — a deadline accelerated by a year because of the Sept. 11 attacks. He said regional boards of directors were needed to get the federal dollars.

        As a regional board is formed to gather funding, though, Northern Kentucky does not have its own hazardous materials response team.

        The Northern Kentucky volunteer response team — the Hazmat Region 7 team, which covered the rural counties as well as the more populated Boone, Campbell and Kenton — was organized in 1989 but folded last year because of a lack of activity in the rural counties, Mr. Watkins said.

        “At the height, there were 50-60 members,” Mr. Watkins said. “There was some issue over workers' compensation, so the team just decided to fold.”

        Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties are covered in the event of a terrorist attack or major spill. Cincinnati Fire Department District Chief Jerry Lautz said his department and the Greater Cincinnati Hazmat Team based in Forest Park would respond.

        But if a major chemical spill or terrorist act happened, for example, in Dearborn County in Southeast Indiana or on Interstate 75 near Dry Ridge in Grant County, the response plans vary.

        Bill Black of the Dearborn County Department of Emergency Management said his county has a contract with Greater Cincinnati Hazmat. Grant County Sheriff Randy Middleton said a state unit in Lexington would have to come north — a trip of at least 60 miles.

        District Chief Lautz said he has been talking to Cincinnati Fire Chief Robert Wright and City Manager Valerie Lemmie about letting his department go farther than the present 25-mile radius.

        “They're very supportive of the concept, but we have to be concerned about liability and mutual aid,” District Chief Lautz said.

        When the money comes, Mr. Watkins said, it would buy personal protective equipment, self-contained breathing apparatus and devices that measure radioactivity and other things at the site of an disaster.

        “With the way terrorists are, you never know,” Sheriff Middleton said. “We take too much for granted.”


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