KERSEY – The Northwest Central PA Emergency Response Group (NWCPAERG) is tasked with providing emergency response training, planning and equipment acquisition from Homeland Security funds to the emergency service providers in Cameron, Clarion, Clearfield, Elk, Jefferson, and McKean counties. The mission of the NWCPAERG is to protect human life, work to mitigate emergencies and respond to man-made and natural disasters throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This will be accomplished through the integration of Federal, State and Local agencies by the means of training and regional networking. This release is in response to the recent comments regarding wasteful spending of Department of Homeland Security funds across Pennsylvania.
The Executive Committee of the NWCPAERG is comprised of these counties’ Emergency Management Coordinators. It is this executive committee that makes decisions on the planning, training and equipment necessary to respond to emergencies within our Region. The NWCPAERG directors apply for funding based on the needs of their respective county within the region and submit a spending plan to the board of directors for approval and purchase. The spending plan is then submitted to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) who purchases the equipment for the NWCPAERG. This money is not received by the NWCPAERG, only PEMA.
The equipment is purchased by PEMA and sent to the counties. Currently, the Northwest Central PA Emergency Response Group is electronically tracking all equipment, to assist PEMA with accountability of equipment purchased for the Northwest Central PA Emergency Response Group. NWCPAERG has utilized the limited funding received available to the region for planning, training and equipment. Equipment is housed in any one of the counties, but is available for use by all counties in the region as necessary.
A majority of the money eligible to the Northwest Central PA Emergency Response Group has been utilized for interoperable communications. Equipment purchased includes, emergency radio towers, mobile radios, portables and personal alerting devices for the emergency responders. A cache of portable radios have been secured by the task force for major incidents. These then can be taken to any location and are programmed for extra communication issues at the scene. Not only for contact with the local responders, but also for state and federal officials who may need to communicate with the incident commanders. The task force counties have also upgraded their 911 response as well with these funds.
Other major purchases include trailers – Mass Casualty, HazMat and Communications – for the six counties in the region to provide services at related incidents. The Mass Casualty trailer has equipment to handle multiple patients involved in an accident or other event causing injury or illness to many people. The HazMat trailer has extra absorbent materials to assist at the scene of a hazardous materials spill and additional detection equipment to detect and identify unknown substances.
This equipment has been utilized within the region on many occasions. Jefferson County utilized NWCPAERG equipment during a three day search for a missing fisherman. Regional equipment was also used during the evacuation of a nursing home due to a natural gas line rupture. In Clearfield County, an accident in which a tractor trailer crashed into three occupied homes in a residential area required the deployment of regional resources. McKean County deployed regional resources during a recent train derailment. McKean County was also involved in a manhunt for an individual who had shot and injured three New York State Troopers, one fatally. All of the counties have utilized the equipment for multiple drills and exercises to better prepare their emergency responders and response agencies for all types of hazards.
Another benefit of Homeland Security Funding is training. The federal government has tasked each state to comply with NIMS – National Incident Management System. NIMS is a documented system used to control resources at emergency operations involving single- or multi-jurisdiction agencies. Northwest Central PA Emergency Response Group has provided over 40 classes to approximately 1,200 fire, EMS, law enforcement, and local government officials over the past 3 years.
Another facet of the program is exercising. The NWCPAERG averages approximately six functional exercises per year utilizing the knowledge responders learn in training, together with emergency response equipment and plans to practice simulated but real time practice events. These exercises help the emergency responders and directors of the group to identify short falls and gaps in planning, training and equipping. This helps all emergency responders to test their training and update policies to better protect the citizens of this great Commonwealth.
Northwest Central PA Emergency Response Group intends to continue providing training, exercises, and equipment to area responders while continuing to comply with state and federal mandates. The counties associated with the Northwest Central PA Emergency Response Group meet in person on a monthly basis, along with video conferencing throughout the month to plan, prepare and respond to all types of hazards. As we know in our area, terrorism is a concern – however, we feel we still need to prepare for the day to day events that historically have occurred in our area – severe weather, traffic collisions, fires, and so forth.
The NWCPAERG also assists our municipalities in preparing for pre-planned events. Clarion County’s Autumn Leaf Festival brings thousands of people to the region for a week-long event centered on the fall season. This event is largely attended due to the fact it is based in a community with one of the largest universities in Pennsylvania. The Groundhog Capitol of the World, Punxsutawney, sees close to 30,000 additional citizens on Feb. 2. They come to watch a European tradition of a groundhog being pulled from its burrow to tell the tale of if it will be an early spring or extended winter. This event is attended by people from all over the world. It is also one of the largest events in this region and is televised internationally.
The NWCPAERG is utilizing a web based resource program that enables logistics personnel to find and request equipment and resources efficiently during an emergency. This system has made it possible for all six counties of the NWCPAERG to compile a database of equipment and resources in one place. Currently 27 counties are using the same resource database program allowing effective communication between task force regions in regard to equipment and resource requests during an emergency.
“The equipment, plans and training programs that the NWCPAERG has endorsed has made a significant impact on the area, however there is still more to do to better prepare for the next emergency,” said Michal Rearick, NWCPAERG chairman. “So, even though the individual responder may not have the equipment in possession at the fire, police or ambulance station, the task force has these services available at a time of need.”