Gaston, N.C., Leaders Talk Emergency Preparedness Strategies

Work continues to implement an early warning system to county residents about potential dangers, prepare for next year's Republican National Convention in Charlotte and deal with potential domestic terrorist threats.

by Gavin Stewart, Gaston Gazette, Gastonia, N.C. / October 21, 2019

(TNS) — While Gaston County Emergency Management looks for a new leader the agency charged with preparing a response to natural and manmade disasters continues its work, County Manager Kim Eagle told commissioners last week.

Work continues on implementing an early warning system to county residents about potential dangers, preparing for next year's Republican National Convention in Charlotte and dealing with potential terrorist threats, Eagle told commissioners.

Early warning system

The county's current emergency notification system requires users to opt in, but by next year residents will get an automatic alert to crisis situations.

"Everyone will be connected automatically. There will be no action to take to be included in the notification because it will be an integrated public alert and warning system, kind of like what we use now for Amber Alerts," Eagle said.

The system should go live in spring 2020.

Trump in Charlotte

Around 120 law enforcement officers from the Gaston County Sheriff's Office and Gaston County Police Department, as well as departments in Gastonia, Mount Holly and Bessemer City, are ready to lend a hand in Charlotte during the Republican National Convention in August.

"They've already started civil response training with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department," Eagle said.

Convention-goers should add to the local economy, but law enforcement must also be ready for protests, terrorism threats and other issues involving such a large gathering.

Gaston County law enforcement needs to buy gas masks, helmets and hydration packs ahead of the convention, she said.

But those expenses could be lessened depending on how Charlotte administers funding from the convention, Eagle said.

Domestic terrorism

Two nuclear plants, major highways and an international airport nearby raises the risk of a terrorist attack in the Charlotte region.

"The county has been extremely focused for the last several years on nuclear, which is not a bad thing, but we have the opportunity to re-engage more intentionally in some of those other types of emergencies," Eagle said.

Emergency responders are looking at how to react to different emergencies should they happen through specific training.

"Tabletop exercises give you a real-live scenario with lots and lots of detail to let you, in that safe environment, have the right people around the table to think through where are we lacking, where can we be more robust," Eagle said.

"We've had several exercises in the past, but we're looking to expand the footprint and the nature of those exercises," she said.

New administrator

Gaston County Police Capt. Myron Shelor took the lead over Gaston County Emergency Management two months ago on an interim basis after Keith Rapp's departure from the job.

A permanent replacement could be hired by December, Eagle said.

Whoever fills the position, officially titled emergency management administrator, will be responsible for developing countywide response plans to natural and manmade disasters in conjunction with local, state and federal agencies.

You can reach Gavin Stewart at 704-869-1819.

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©2019 Gaston Gazette, Gastonia, N.C.

Visit Gaston Gazette, Gastonia, N.C. at www.gastongazette.com

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