By Abigail Summerville
Rockbridge County, Lexington and Buena Vista are upgrading the region’s Emergency Operations Plan to improve their response to widespread emergencies, such as a catastrophic flooding.
“One of our main challenges is that we have a high percentage of reoccurring flooding, we have a lot of large bodies of water here—the Maury, the James River…so we have flooding to be concerned with,” said Nathan Ramsey, the director of Rockbridge County Fire and Rescue.
He said planning ahead is important because most citizens don’t think about an emergency until it occurs.
“We have to be proactive and be prepared when an event happens, and these types [of emergencies] are not something like an everyday fire or a major crash on the interstate,” Ramsey said.
The region won an $18,000 grant in early February from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management to update the regional EOP. The upgrade needs to be completed by October because that is Virginia’s deadline for submitting new emergency plans. EOPs are required to be updated every four years.
The plan details the actions and responsibilities that emergency responders must conduct before, during and after a widespread emergency, said Trent Roberts, Lexington’s emergency management coordinator and fire marshal.
“The EOP addresses areas such as incident command, response, mitigation, damage assessment and recovery of a wide-spread emergency event,” he said. “Within those jobs are tasks such as mass sheltering, communications and agriculture recovery.”
Roberts said the plan is a “scalable document,” which means the department can pick and choose which sections to use, depending on the situation. He said that’s what local officials did in response to the Lee-Jackson Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day marches in January.
He said the three communities work together under the same EOP because big emergencies require a lot of people to pitch in and help.
“Our communities are close knit,” Roberts said. “A large emergency, which may only severely impact a few areas of our county, such as flooding, requires the cooperation and response from the entire community and beyond to successfully mitigate.”