Committee devising emergency fuel plan for county
by Kellen Moore
As Emergency Preparedness Month continues, a Watauga County committee is hatching a plan for how to better deal with fuel shortages that could threaten the county’s critical services.
The Local Emergency Planning Committee, which includes representatives from emergency management, police and fire departments, law enforcement, public health, private businesses and other sectors, began talking about such an endeavor in August.
Now, a subcommittee has formed to begin creating a plan that will suit Watauga County’s needs, with the hope of reaching completion by August 2013.
“Most municipalities and counties, we support our local private businesses by purchasing from them,” said Steve Sudderth, Watauga County emergency management coordinator. “So we’re in the same boat as everybody else, but yet we’re supposed to provide critical infrastructure.”
Many municipalities began considering such a plan in 2008, when a series of natural disasters resulted in shortages in western North Carolina.
The local committee is relying on a plan developed by the Land-of-Sky Regional Council, which serves the Asheville and surrounding areas, as a template. That plan examines the current fuel distribution system, the average usage of the participating counties and outlines options for mild, moderate and severe fuel shortages.
“It’s incredibly detailed; it’s a great plan,” said Joseph Miller, a member of the LEPC. “There’s parts of it that are a lot like reading stereo instructions, but overall it’s a very comprehensive plan.”
With that plan as a guide, the LEPC is now collecting information from stakeholders about their average usage totals and needs. It also will prioritize which services are considered most critical — including firefighting, medical assistance, law enforcement, sewer and water system upkeep, and others — and look at possibilities for guaranteeing fuel for those needs during times of shortage.
Mitigating the effects of fuel shortages can be difficult. Simply storing extra fuel is problematic, as the fuel degrades in time and because environmental concerns have lessened the availability of underground storage tanks, Sudderth said.
Another option might be to create agreements with private sector fuel providers that would supply the critical needs first in times of shortage, he said.
When developed, the local emergency fuel plan will complement the statewide emergency energy plan that outlines steps for dealing with shortages.
Sudderth said creating a local guide will help government respond more quickly to local needs, instead of waiting on state assistance.
“You’ve got political unrest in the Mideast, you’ve got storms in the Gulf — all of that stuff could potentially impact getting fuel,” said David Hancock of C3 Applications, another member of the LEPC.
The committee hopes to have a draft plan ready to present to Watauga County commissioners in January, with a final draft ready in August 2013.
Sudderth said he is excited to see the plan get under way after discussions stalled several years ago.
“It’s just something that I wanted to continue pursuing,” he said. “… We’ve got a bit of time that we can devote to this in the office, and the fact that our LEPC is willing to take it on makes it doable.”