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Boro briefed on ‘Hazard’ task force
By: GARY KLINGER Review Correspondent, Staff Writer
At separate municipal meetings, both Ephrata Borough Council and the Ephrata Township Board of Supervisors were briefed by Ephrata Chief of Police William Harvey on the operations of the South Central Task Force (SCTF).
Ephrata resident and vice chairman of SCTF, Randy Gockley, was also on hand for the briefing of Ephrata borough officials at its Feb. 13 voting session.
SCTF is one of nine such regional task forces established across the state of Pennsylvania to cover all "hazards" events which might otherwise exhaust the resources and capabilities of local emergency responders such as fire, police and EMTs. This regional task force covers eight counties, including Lancaster, Lebanon, York, Franklin, Adams, Dauphin, Perry and Cumberland. By grouping resources in the shared mission of preparing the region for a wide range of hazards, from hurricanes and floods to terror-type incidents, the outcome provides for greater security without greater cost.
"SCTF is not an organization but a vehicle for mutual collaboration and solutions and regional training exercises," explained Harvey.
Regionally, the task force was seen in action in the aftermath of last summer’s storms, as well as in the handling of the Amish school shooting at Nickel Mines. Each regional task force is charged with developing a regional homeland security strategy with the shared mission of assuming a leadership role in delivering a comprehensive and substantive "all hazards" emergency preparedness program to include planning, prevention, response and recovery.
A short presentation to officials showed that over the past three years, 324 training courses have been attended by over 4,700 students logging a whopping total of 88,300 student hours of training. One thousand "all hazard" events have been held and over 200 exercise opportunities have been offered through a Department of Homeland Security funding stream. Many of these events have amounted to a dry run response to a wide variety of hazardous situations the program is designed to handle.
What makes SCTF such a vital resource to the region is that through pooled resources, shared training and collective procurement of such things as special armored vehicles and other equipment, the task force is able to act as a resource to the local first responders. In addition, when situations arise which would typically exhaust the resources of the average local emergency teams, SCTF is able to come in to collaborate, assist and advise local fire, police and emergency personnel.
Harvey and Gockley also pointed out that SCTF has been able to acquire numerous advanced technology based tools such as web-based incident management tools, responder alert and notification systems, equipment tracking, community alerting tools, and many other regional resources purchased at reduced rates covering all disciplines of "all hazards" preparedness.
Policy and direction of SCTF is established by the county’s Emergency Management Coordinators with stakeholder input provided through a structure of subcommittees and working groups. These subcommittees and working groups are associated with every major preparedness discipline, including agriculture, business and industry, communications, criminal justice, logistics, EMS, hospitals and healthcare facilities, public information and fire/rescue and Hazmat.
These groups also serve as a networking, coordination and collaboration point for bringing together local, county, state, federal and non-government agencies.
Gockley and Harvey pointed out that through the development of standardized operational procedures, uniform training requirements and common equipment procurement and utilization, SCTF serves both as resource to county police and fire organizations as well as an example.
In other police related business, both Mayor Ralph Mowen and Chief Harvey addressed concerns raised in a recent article published in another local newspaper regarding the recent arrest of Jay Allen Brubaker. Mowen reiterated that at no time had Brubaker been arrested or in the custody of the Ephrata Police Department.
Highlighting the facts presented in an e-mail sent out on Feb. 9, Chief Harvey stated the known facts in the incident (see related article).
"Ephrata Police Officers filed the criminal charges," added Harvey. "Brubaker was not taken to the prison by EPD nor was he turned over to another police agency by EPD."
Mayor Mowen was concerned with the accuracy of the previously filed article in that it erroneously gave the impression the Ephrata Police Department had a hand in Brubaker later reportedly getting drugs and needles into the prison when they did not.
"I just want to be sure the public gets an accurate picture of what actually happened here," added Mayor Mowen. "We were not involved with this."
"Once something is published erroneously, even with a correction in the future, it’s out there," said Harvey. "The District Attorney is also working on this to clear the Ephrata Police force. What is important to me is that I don’t want the people of Ephrata to think they have anything less than a top notch police force."
In other borough news, Lancaster County Commission Dennis Stuckey was on hand for the Ephrata Borough Council’s "Municipal Minute," in which he updated council and those on hand on the current state of affairs with regard to Lancaster County.
"We’ve passed four budgets without a tax increase, but the budgets get tougher," stated Stuckey.
Stuckey reviewed initiatives he and his fellow county commissioners have undertaken, including taking a hard-line stance on collective bargaining, taking a look at contributions made to medical insurance, and that the county has joined a health care consortium to save money. He also said he had recently received the 175-page final report on a study on court efficiency.
Stuckey also discussed the outlook for the county budget. Like many municipalities, the county fiscal year follows the calendar year. No so for the state which starts its fiscal year in June. He said there was good news out of Harrisburg with regard to human services, where the state mandates certain human services programs. In some cases, the state provides the mountain share of funding with counties through block grants, splitting costs 95 percent to five percent and other programs at a rate of 80 percent to 20. The challenge, however, is in adopting a budget when the fiscal years don’t align.
Stuckey also updated council on the renovations underway at several county buildings, including the courthouse, which is to receive a new entrance way, as well as much needed renovations to the underground parking garage — made necessary due to water, which was leaking into the structure.
Council member Robert Good questioned Stuckey on the overall condition of the county. Stuckey conceded that the county’s bond rating had been downgraded from AAA to A.
"This is still a very good bond rating," said Stuckey, who explained that to some extent the reason for the downgrade was connected to the controlled spend down of the county’s $22M reserve fund.
"But when the financial analysts look at it and your commissioners tried to argue for the people of Lancaster County that we could always raise taxes etc. — but the bond rating organization did not buy that," said Stuckey. "We are strong, lean and mean. I am confident that we have managed the way the citizens wanted us to manage. We didn’t raise taxes and we got re-elected based on that. It just didn’t matter when it came to the bond ratings. We are considered very stable nonetheless."
For more information about Ephrata Borough, visit ephrataboro.org. More BORO, page A16