The Phoenix Reporter and Item (http://www.phoenixvillenews.com)

Chester County government prepared for emergencies


By Chester County Commissioner Terence Farrell

Monday, March 25, 2013

Being prepared for all emergencies is a daunting task for those elected officials responsible for the safety and well-being of their constituents but planning for such emergencies is necessary.
Some months ago the county commissioners took steps to develop a Continuity of Operations Plan, known as COOP by those of us who worked on the project. Last week, Iím proud to say, we adopted the base plan. As a member of the task force, I can attest to the hard work by all involved.
All residents, and especially taxpayers, should be pleased with COOP as not only does the plan provide a framework for providing for necessary government services in the time of emergencies, but the plan was developed at quite a tax savings.
When we began the process we asked for bids from outside agencies to perform the work. The cost to engage one of those companies, we discovered, would be several hundred thousand dollars, not an insignificant amount, especially in these days of limited funding for essential services to those county residents in need.
After reviewing the responses from the outside experts, we looked at the abilities of our very capable county staff, especially those who are responsible for the countyís Emergency Operations Center, and decided that they could perform the tasks and develop COOP themselves. We were correct. The plan is top-notch and the cost was the work hours devoted to the project by county employees. This was a huge savings.
As for the plan itself, we identified services provided by county government and divided them into four categories. The top priority section dealt with services that need to be functioning within hours of any emergency. Those programs include safety issues, such as 911 and services to the elderly.
We planned for emergencies from a nuisance snow storm that closes county offices for a few hours to a medical pandemic that could disrupt services for a week or longer. A number of circumstances can cause service interruptions, from widespread utility outages, fires, floods, severe weather incidents and wide-spread sickness.
Approval of the base plan provides guidance in organizing efforts, assigning responsibilities and establishing a multi-year strategy including training, exercises and periodic plan reviews. This plan goes along with one already completed by our county judiciary.
By the end of the year a planning team, led by the countyís Department of Emergency Services with support from the Department of Computing and Information Services, will complete a plan that includes detailed information needed to restore services should a disruption occur.
Of course it is impossible to identify every possible calamity but Chester County has a base plan to work through issues.
With COOP, it is better to plan and not need it than not plan and, in an emergency, be found wanting. We certainly donít want a catastrophe to strike Chester County but as county commissioners we have to be prepared.
Terence Farrell may be contacted at tfarrell@chesco.org.