Columbia County's Emergency Services Division received more than $500,000 in federal and state grants throughout 2003 to fund emergency prevention and response.
The grants came from the first two phases of a national Homeland Security Domestic Preparedness Grant geared toward arming the country against terrorist attacks.
Federal funding is funneled through the Georgia Emergency Management Agency to county agencies. Columbia County received the largest chunk of grant money in 2003 of the 25 counties included in GEMA's East Central Georgia district.
"Homeland security includes anything a community would need to respond to a terrorist attack," said Pam Tucker, director of the Columbia County Emergency Services Division.
The county department prepared a needs assessment and found it lacking in several areas related to terrorism, especially bio-terrorism, Tucker said. Columbia County became eligible to receive the domestic-preparedness grants.
Tucker said she has no problem using homeland security grants to meet local needs.
"Anything we can do to make our city safer, we're going to do it," she said.
Another agency in the county saw a boost from the Department of Homeland Security last year.
The Grovetown Department of Public Safety received $23,000 to help establish a hazardous materials unit. The money went toward self-contained breathing equipment, anthrax test kits, hazardous material-resistant gloves and boots, special preparedness suits, and hazardous material, gas and chemical agent detectors.
Homeland Security designated $448,600 for Columbia County's Emergency Services to buy an emergency mobile command vehicle. The 40-foot recreational vehicle will be a high-tech communications center, one of a kind in east Georgia.
"It can be an alternate 911 center if one of ours is down. It will be available to the surrounding area," Tucker said. She expects to have the vehicle by March.
The department also will use a Hazard Mitigation Planning Grant of $24,250 to fund technology purchases, such as digital cameras, global positioning system receivers, notebook computers and scanners. The grant's purpose is to aid hazard prevention.
"If you don't have a hazard prevention plan, you won't be eligible for hazard relief," Tucker said.
Columbia County is one of 33 counties nationwide to receive the mitigation grant. The Columbia County Emergency Services Division developed a hazard mitigation plan that will serve as a model for other East Central Georgia counties that have not yet developed such a plan.
Tucker's department also benefited from the Local Emergency Operation Planning Grant, which is more comprehensive. The $23,700 grant funds Columbia County's all-hazards plan, including disaster preparation, response and recovery.
Also, the Columbia County Emergency Services division received its annual GEMA grant. For fulfilling a checklist of instructions, GEMA awarded Columbia County $10,300.
"We've never missed a year," Tucker said of this grant.
Columbia County's emergency services may have brought in money for 2003, but Tucker said she is not satisfied. She has submitted a request for a total of $350,000 in 2004. The money would purchase self-contained breathing devices for firefighters and train a community response team. If approved, the money would come from a Phase III Domestic Preparedness Grant.
Tucker credits the year's success to an effective emergency response team and supportive community officials. She said she is optimistic about next year.
"We've got an administration and county commissioners that always support us, and the GEMA looks at that when they evaluate request submissions," Tucker said.
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