DAPHNE, Alabama — Officials with the Baldwin County Emergency Management Agency said Monday that they are back on track in updating the county’s plan for the storage and transportation of hazardous materials through Baldwin County.
“First and foremost, I want to say that we all understand that the coronavirus remains a serious issue,” said Baldwin County EMA Director Zach Hood at the Baldwin County Local Emergency Planning Committee quarterly meeting held Monday, June 15 in the conference room at Thomas Medical Center in Daphne. “We are going to continue to monitor that situation closely and provide a coordinated response, but at the same time we need to be re-focusing on the original purpose of this committee.”
An act of the State Legislature passed in 1986 requires that each county maintain an LEPC for the purposes of identifying companies that store and transport hazardous materials, provide oversight for the proper disposal of those materials and have an action plan in place should a disaster occur involving hazardous materials.
The committee is comprised of local first responders, representatives from hospitals and health agencies, volunteer organizations and members of the private sector.
Meetings include committee reports, including a financial report, shelter report, medical health, law enforcement, fire services, industry and Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD).
During Monday’s meeting, Jenni Guerry, who was recently named as deputy director for EMA, said the group has recently resumed meetings to update its Hazardous Material Response Plan and should have something ready for approval in the coming months.
“Like a lot of things, there’s been a delay, but we remain committed to having this plan ready in the coming months,” Guery said.
Guery presented statistics from the E-plan Tier 2 reporting system showing that there were 92 facilities reporting the storage of hazardous materials in 2019, compared to 101 in 2018.
The committee also held public information training with Dr. Joseph Trahan and triage training which included training at three locations over a three-day period, the Bay Minette Fire Department, a night training exercise in Loxley with Deputy Fire Chief Ed Vaughn, who is also a retired police officer and former Loxley chief of police; and the Fort Morgan Fire Department. The three training sessions included about 30 participants per session.
The training sessions also included officials from MedStar, EMS, Orange Beach Fire, Lake Forest and E-911 Director Joby Smith.
Hood also stated that EMA has also brought back the LEPC trailer to the central facility in Robertsdale and is working with local first responder agencies to stock the trailer and develop a protocol for its usage.
“We need your input as to what we need and how we’re going to use it,” Hood said. “That is another thing we have made a top priority and we want to work with you to develop a plan to use it in the best way possible.”
The start of hurricane season in June is also something EMA is continuing to keep a close eye on, Hood said, with three named storms already, one of which impacted the Gulf Coast.
Baldwin County EMA Shelter and Training Coordinator Scott Wallace announced protocols for emergency shelters, including a plan for six feet of separation between areas within the shelters. Under the guidelines, the Baldwin County Coliseum, which has a reported long-term shelter capacity of 1,900, would only hold about 170 within the auditorium space.
“Because families could shelter closer together, that number could increase depending on the size of the family groups,” he said.
Anyone needing to go to a shelter would be screened for symptoms prior to entry and anyone exhibiting symptoms would be sent to an isolation area, Wallace said.
Food distribution at the shelter would also be handled differently, he said, utilizing a system which would allow for a minimum amount of contact.
Guery invited everyone to participate in the Baldwin County Disaster Preparedness & Recovery Expo, originally set for June 9, but was postponed to Aug. 5 at the Daphne Civic Center.
Also at Monday’s meeting, reports were presented by representatives of North Baldwin Infirmary and Thomas Hospital, both stating that regular hospital visits are back to about 80 to 90 percent with the resumed outpatient surgeries.
“One thing we are seeing is that patients seem to be waiting longer to be treated,” one representative said, “so we are seeing sicker patients than before the outbreak.”
A representative from Altapoint said they have also seen an increase in response to mental health issues.
A representative from the Baldwin County Health Department said testing at the department’s Robertsdale facility continues. Anyone exhibiting systems should call the clinic at 251-947-3618 to get tested.
As of Wednesday, June 17 there have been nearly 3,000 tests conducted in Baldwin County over the last 14 days with 81 confirmed new cases of coronavirus. Baldwin County now has a total of 374 confirmed cases with nine deaths. Statewide there have been 26,524 confirmed cases and 779 deaths, nearly 8,000 confirmed cases over the last 14 days.
Baldwin County EMA Shelter and Training Coordinator Scott Wallace also said the EMA has set up a warehouse from which it has distributed PPE to first responders, including masks, splash guards, suits, gloves and hand sanitizer.
A representative from the tourism industry also presented a report stating that rentals are now at around 80 percent capacity.
“It is very different from what we were anticipating before the outbreak,” she said. “On average people are waiting up to 7 to 10 days in advance to book where before we were booking months in advance.”
Baldwin County Commissioner Joe Davis also addressed the group about the 2020 Census and a proposed bill on the November ballot which would provide toll funds to pay for an extension to the Baldwin Beach Express to run from Interstate 10 to Interstate 65.
“I cannot stress enough that we need everyone to respond to the 2020 census,” he said. “There is a concern, especially in the tourist areas where northern visitors are unsure of where they should be counted. Right now, our response is running at about 50 percent, compared to 70 percent in other areas.”
Foley Fire Chief Joey Darby also stated that with an increase in traffic has come an increase in traffic accidents over the last few weeks.
Foley FD is also working with OWA to coordinate response with an additional fireworks show planned at the park.
Sports tourism at the city’s sports complex was also addressed. While there has been a decreased number of baseball teams planning to visit the area, softball tournaments, which are scheduled for later in the summer, continue to draw teams. Other sports such as volleyball are also continuing to plan tournaments.
The next meeting of the Local Emergency Planning Committee is scheduled for September.