Taylor County LEPC back in action and ready to move forward

TAYLOR COUNTY—Preparation is key when disaster strikes, and now that the COVID-19 pandemic is fading into the background, officials have once again set their sights on bringing together individuals to assist in the event of a wide-scale emergency.

Shortly before the onset of the pandemic, key players from the community began meeting to ensure that, should an emergency occur, plans would be in place to help alleviate stress and panic. This group of individuals would form the Taylor County Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC).

“The LEPC has not been functioning for the last two-and-a-half years, because we converted it into our COVID response team,” said LEPC Chair Shawn Thorn. “Which is great for the county, but it didn’t allow us to meet the baseline requirements to receive funding for the county.”

According to Thorn, LEPCs were created from the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986, following a gas leak accident at Union Carbide in India. The incident left many people dead and is considered among the world’s worst industrial disasters.

“So, the government decided that we needed to know what all hazardous chemicals were present within out communities,” Thorn voiced. “And that is our purpose.”

Taylor County’s LEPC will operate under the jurisdiction of the Taylor County Office of Emergency Management.

It will be the duty of the Taylor County LEPC to coordinate all hazards planning, ensure that the public stays informed and aware of any issues involving hazardous materials locally and carrying out planning and training that will be utilized in the event of a disaster.

In order to meet the baseline requirements, the LEPC must be comprised of one representative that is an elected state or local official; a representative from law enforcement, public health, fire or EMS; one representative from local media; a subject matter expert that works with the chemicals; and a representative from a community organization.

As of their first meeting, the body had found membership in each of the categories except for representation from a community organization. However, after some discussion, the group settled on a potential candidate.

But before the planning and preparations could be carried out, the local council had to institute their officers and discuss their by-laws.

During their Thursday afternoon meeting, the LEPC installed Shawn Thorn as Chair of the council, Peggy Behan as Vice Chair, Nicki Skinner as Secretary and Patricia Henderson as the group’s information coordinator, as voted on by members Thorn, Bobby Beltner, Ryan Roberts, Sam Jones, Skinner, Behan, Gavin Watkins and Michelle Mayle. 

Henderson and Coleman Durrett were not present at the meeting during voting.

Each officer will serve a two-year term, beginning immediately and continuing until the end of the year.

“We are finishing this year out, and then we will be re-electing in December to take effect in January 2023,” Thorn said. “That’s how the terms will run in a normal cycle, elections in December and terms beginning in January.”

The LEPC members also discussed amendments to the existing by-laws that were put into place in 2016. After the changes are made, the new set of rules will be typed up and distributed to LEPC members.

“As we are approaching normalcy from the pandemic, we wanted to become more prepared for any hazards the county may face, so that we can better respond to them,” Thorn. “We are hoping that we can continue to see the wonderful success that we enjoyed from the community during the pandemic, in these normal times.”


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