Steve Wykoff, director for the Upshur County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management

If disaster strikes, this Upshur County agency is ready to respond

BUCKHANNON – Buckhannon-Upshur Chamber of Commerce members convened at the Upshur County E911 Communications Center this week to learn more about the Upshur County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

The chamber met for its monthly meeting at the communications center on Wednesday, July 6.

Steve Wykoff, the new director of the Upshur County DHSEM, said one of his main goals is to raise awareness about the office and how they work in the community.

“We’re going to get out more into the public and let people know what’s going on, because what we do up here is very instrumental to the community and the county as a whole,” Wykoff said. “Not only do we work with the city, but we also work with the county. And not only do we prep for disasters and emergency situations, but we also prep for special events like the Strawberry Festival and the upcoming World Association of Marching Show Bands event.”

His office is responsible for developing a strategy to deal with a variety of possible disasters and emergencies.

“We have continuity of operation plans — how to keep businesses and our community running after a disaster — and we have a list of resources that we can use to bring the community back from a disaster and recover,” Wykoff said. “We also have plans on how to respond [to emergencies], and those include not only our office and the 911 center, but also the fire departments, EMS, law enforcement, schools and any organizations that can help us in a disaster situation.”

DHSEM is currently looking for buildings within the county to operate as shelters or comfort stations in case of an emergency.

“Comfort stations, which are a little bit less than shelters, still serve a similar purpose,” Wykoff explained. “Shelters need to have a kitchen, shower and bathrooms, where displaced individuals can come in and stay for several days. Comfort stations are a little bit different; it’s like a warming station or a cooling station where people can come in, sit for a few hours and then leave. So if you know anybody that has a building that meets either those qualifications, please get them in touch with us.”

Volunteers are also needed for the Citizens Emergency Response Team.

“We hope to revive the CERT team,” Derek Long, deputy director for Upshur County DSHEM, told chamber members. “The cool thing about CERT is that there’s something for everybody. You don’t have to be 20 and have athletic prowess, everybody has something they can contribute. Matter of fact, the broader base of volunteers we have, the better the CERT program is, because we draw in people from all different types of expertise and backgrounds. So keep an eye out for some of the recruitment we plan to do for CERT, and if you’re interested or willing, we’d like to have some volunteers.”

There can be several divisions of CERT, depending on the number of volunteers in the program. Wykoff hopes to have a division that helps displaced animals that can’t be housed in human shelters.

“A lot of people won’t leave their houses unless they can take their animals with them, and I’m one of those people,” he said. “We can’t take pets into human shelters — it’s just not allowed — so what we do is we take our pet response trailer and set it up next to a shelter so those people that have pets can come out of the human shelter, spend time with their pets, and go back and forth.”

Other divisions the DSHEM would like to develop included one devoted to traffic and crowd management and an emergency communications division comprised of ham radio operators.

“We’ll also be reaching out to organizations, agencies and businesses to create memorandums of understanding, which will create an agreement between our office and their business to obtain resources during an emergency situation — anything from food to ice to heavy equipment, bulldozers, excavators, all sorts of stuff like that,” Wykoff said. “You may not see us until there’s a disaster, unfortunately, but we are up here, constantly making sure everything’s going smoothly and making sure that we’re prepared.”

Members of the community may occasionally see the DHSEM office performing exercises at schools or at the hospital.

“Not only do we make sure those things are running smoothly, but we also identify opportunities that we can improve on,” Wykoff said. “Unfortunately, a school shooting seems to be popular nowadays. God forbid something like that happens in this area, but we are pretty well prepared in that regard: our law enforcement knows what to do, EMS knows what to do, we know what to do here at the 911 center, so rest assured that if something like that happens, we are prepared.”

He also informed the chamber that his office is currently working on transitioning the emergency notification system from WENS to Nixle.

“WENS is what we’re currently using to send out emails, phone calls and text messages for anything from boil water advisories and community advisories to weather alerts and whatnot, and we’re in the middle of transitioning to a system called Nixle, which some of you may remember us having several years back,” Wykoff said. “We’re having some issues with WENS right now — some of the information that we’re trying to push out isn’t getting there, and the Nixle’s system has changed since we’ve last used it. It’s more robust, so we’re working on that transition right now.”

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