CABELL COUNTY, WV (WOWK) — A community meeting of local fire, police, health and transportation officials—among many others—met today for the first time in over a year in Cabell County.
The Cabell-Wayne Homeland Security Group is a community partnership between different vital agencies in the two counties. It’s origin dates back to September 11, 2001.
In the past, they’ve met on a monthly basis, but haven’t been able to do so lately due to the pandemic.
Spirits were high at the Tri-State Fire Academy as officials from various agencies pulled in for today’s big meeting.
“This is our first homeland security meeting for one year, one month,” says Gordon Merry, director of Cabell County Emergency Medical Services (EMS).
This group used to keep a very regular schedule:
“First Tuesday of each month! And we’ve been doin’ em since September 11th,” Merry says.
Today, many agencies from Cabell and Wayne counties had representatives at the meeting: everything from the City of Huntington Fire Department to state and local police departments; to hospitals and first responders; even water companies and the transportation authority in the area.
“Really it’s to get everyone to know everyone, so that when a disaster does happen, you’ve got a name and a true face,” Merry says.
With such a long hiatus since the last meeting, many in attendance felt the renewed importance of these lasting contacts they acquire there.
“This group is essential to any kind of emergency response—whether it be an ice storm, whether it be a pandemic,” says Dr. Michael Kilkenny, the CEO and health officer for the Cabell-Huntington Health Department.
All of which this community has gone through, not to mention the flooding in early March.
The main topic of conversation at the meeting was how various local agencies responded to the pandemic.
“We quarantined a lot of people, but we only had probably eight, ten that actually contracted it—nobody from the job. But you know I contribute that to us working together like we do,” says Jan Rader, the fire chief for the City of Huntington Fire Department.
“The pandemic didn’t stop crime, it never slowed down. We had a huge outbreak twice in our office,” says Sergeant B.K Wellman, the detachment commander for the West Virginia State Police in Huntington.
After all told of their own experiences in the pandemic, the main sentiment of the day remained:
“We have something in this county that nobody else has, and we need to really be proud of that,” says Tracy Smith, the director of Environmental Health and Safety at Marshall University.
Numerous first responders mentioned how hard it has been this past year, with the pandemic and other emergencies throughout the counties, without being in constant contact with one another.
They say having the homeland security meeting reinstated today will only make disaster response more coordinated in the future.