Emergency planning leads to federal funding

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

Chapel Hill is where two of a number of projects are proposed in a countywide emergency plan that's about half done for state and federal emergency management officials.

"One project is to do something about the railroad crossing at Chapel Hill where everybody knows that when it rains real hard, water fills the underpass some 6-8 feet deep," County Emergency Management Director Bob Hopkins said during a public meeting here.

The second project is to install an electricity generator at the Chapel Hill Fire Hall so it could be used as a shelter during extremely bad weather, Hopkins said.

Countywide, officials are to identify a safe room in each of the schools where people may go in the event of a tornado. A room has been selected at Chapel Hill Elementary School. Others are to be selected at the other buildings.

Such emergency planning is not just common sense. It's required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency if a county is going to be qualified for federal assistance such as what was available here and other counties in Middle Tennessee after the May flooding in 2010.

Elizabeth Webster is an employee of Marshall County's EMA and she's been working on the mitigation plan during her own time, allocated by her and paid for through FEMA guidelines for updating the document that not only prepares the county, but also qualifies it for emergency help.

"Without a mitigation plan, you don't get help from FEMA," Webster said, "It's the first thing the FEMA man asked for when he walked in here in May 2010 after the big flood."

She and Hopkins accommodated federal employees at the county EMA office in the Hardison Office Annex on College Street where area residents could come and apply for help after the May flood. That office is familiar with the requirements of the National Flood Insurance Program.

"They helped at least 23 people and the Highway Department," Hopkins said of the FEMA employees here.

To make sure that kind of help remains available, Watson continues to update the county's mitigation plan.

While her work on the mitigation plan is, technically, separate from her job supporting Hopkins' work, he emphasizes that what she's doing is important.

"We are trying to get federal dollars to help us because we are a depressed county," he said.

Such continued eligibility has led to funding so wider bridges could be built for Old Lake Road and New Lake Road, he said. Part of Mt. Vernon Road was repaired with such funding.

The office has not been successful with all its attempts to get federal funding. There's a portion of Verona Caney Road that floods, he said. That project hasn't been funded - yet.

Meanwhile a Mitigation Team has been advising Webster and others on what's needed in the mitigation plan. The members are John Smiley of the county Roads Department, Chapel Hill Fire Chief Kenneth Runk, Lewisburg Mayor Barbara Woods, Lewisburg Water Department's Superintendent Kenneth Carr and assistant Superintendent Robert "Pepper" Biggers, Cornersville City Administrator Taylor Brandon, Justin Whitsett of the Marshall County Emergency Medical Services, Lewisburg Public Works Director Kenny Ring, Marshall County Sheriff's Detective Bob Johnson, County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett, retired Police Chief Wayne Coomes, Chapel Hill Town Administrator Mike Hatten, Marshall County Public Utilities' manager Gayle Shaneyfelt, County Codes/Zoning Director Don Nelson, Ron Aldridge of the Duck River Electric Membership Corp., Roberta Cozart, Clarence Cozart, Jo Anne Henry, Brent Morse of the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, Hopkins and Webster.