On the morning of Sept. 11, I was one of many Columbia County officials in a training session learning new skills to develop high-performance employees. It was a normal, peaceful day.
While working on a group assignment, my pager suddenly signaled that I had a message. The digital message stated simply that an airplane had just crashed into the Twin Towers in New York. I thought that a tragic mistake had occurred and that this must be an accident.
After the next two messages came in, the reality hit that our normal, peaceful day had turned very surreal. Terrorists were attacking our country.
Since that time, new events have unfolded daily, leaving most people wondering what will happen next.
There are some jitters among our citizens, which is understandable. But I hope to relieve some of these concerns.
Emergency of-ficials have been diligently reviewing emergency operation plans, with a strong focus towards the types of threats we could now face. This is done in coordination with all departments, facilities, emergency re-sponse agencies and school officials to make sure we are prepared to respond to and handle any emergency, no matter how unlikely.
All of these plans are constantly kept current and tested on a routine basis. We work especially closely with our schools and communicate important information daily with school officials.
To help prepare our citizens for emergencies, we have posted shelter-in-place chemical safety procedures, as well as other emergency information, on the Columbia County Web Site at www.co.columbia. ga.us. This information is also available upon request by calling the Emergency Services office at 868-3303.
Procedures for handling incidents involving suspicious letters or packages have been developed for the state of Georgia in response to numerous calls from citizens who have found a powdery substance in their mail.
The good news is that none of the dozens of tests on suspect mail in our region have yielded a positive result for biohazardous products. However, each case will continue to be treated according to standard procedures. Any suspect mail should be left where it is; anyone touching it should wash their hands in hot, soapy water; and then local authorities should be called. Columbia County is very well prepared to handle these incidents.
Our office will play host to a meeting later this month with public health officials, hospital safety and infection control personnel, emergency room physicians, pharmacists, school nurses, emergency medical services officials and emergency management officials from all counties in the CSRA to discuss preparedness measures in the event of a major biological or chemical incident in our area. We do not expect that this will ever happen, but we need to be prepared, just as we are for all potential emergencies.
Additionally, the Columbia County Sheriffs Office, the Water and Sewage De-partment, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other authorities have initiated numerous security measures to prevent, or minimize effects from, any attempt to cause harm to our citizens.
False rumors continue to run rampant. If you hear a scary story, dont believe it and please dont pass it on. If in doubt, check with the Sheriffs Office to get the straight story. We all work very closely with the news media to make sure that the public is always kept inform-ed. Anything ominous occurring in the community will be made public by official sources, if it is indeed true.
We have always lived with tornadoes, airplane crashes, hurricanes, floods, chemical spills and fires. Any of these disasters can be catastrophic if they occur, but they do not terrorize us. Dont be terrorized by the terrorists, either.
(Pam Tucker is director of Columbia Countys Emergency Services Division.)
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