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Human trafficking


Presentation by Plains All American...

Emergency planners share resources, education

Frio County Emergency Management Coordinator Ray Kallio of Dilley (left) shares on-screen information on the Tier II hazardous materials reporting system with Cotulla ISD Superintendent Dr. Jack Seals and Texas DPS Highway Patrol Sgt. JD Rodriguez, executive board members of the La Salle County Local Emergency Planning Committee at their quarterly meeting on Wednesday, May 9.
By Marc Robertson
The availability of training courses on new emergency planning software, an outline of the work done by one of the continent’s largest oil and gas carriers, and requirements for reporting hazardous chemicals storage topped the agenda for the Wednesday, May 9, meeting of the La Salle County Local Emergency Planning Committee.

The lunchtime meeting at the county’s Emergency Operations Center on Mars Drive in Cotulla was attended by representatives of the energy industry, emergency responders from the La Salle County Fire Rescue & EMS, the Sheriff’s Office and Texas Department of Public Safety, healthcare and social services providers, and representatives of Cotulla ISD and local businesses, city and county government, and community organizations and churches.

Speaking on behalf of Plains All American Pipeline, spokesperson Brian Ford gave a presentation in which he showed the scope of the company’s reach across the United States and Canada, including more than 20,000 miles of oil and gas pipeline, moving as much as 56 million gallons of product per day. Ford also noted that the “midstream” operations by the company are focused primarily on the transport and storage of energy resources after they leave the well and before they reach the refinery.

“Pipelines are the safest means of transporting oil,” Ford said, adding that the lines operated by Plains All American are monitored continually for their integrity, including compliance with all state and federal standards, and are routinely inspected from the air, on the ground and by remotely operated devices for their condition - including any damage or corrosion - capacity and grade of content.

Ford noted that the company founded in 1981 operates out of a headquarters and central monitoring station in Midland, Texas, although Plains All American pipeline offices can be found across the US and Canada. The control station at Midland, he said, is capable of tracking all material being moved or stored by Plains and expects to be able to identify “where any batch of product is at any time.”

Plains also maintains a roster of over 800 railroad tank cars and a road haulage fleet of trucks, employing 850 commercially licensed drivers in 17 states, and delivers fuel to more than 400 oil and gas facilities daily. Plains All American also maintains storage facilities for up to 125 million barrels of oil and monitors all of its assets 24 hours a day from Midland.

“When in doubt, shut it down,” Ford said is a mantra and operations model followed by all Plains employees and that operational safety is paramount to the company’s continued success. Training in all aspects of safety and accident prevention, materials handling and emergency response is made available continually to all employees, he said. Furthermore, educational information is offered by mail to all residents and businesses within five miles of a Plains pipeline. Information mailed to all those near a pipeline includes its location, hazard awareness and tips on emergency preparedness.

Damage to oil and gas pipelines is caused primarily by earthmoving and other operations related to farming and construction, according to Ford, and also most likely to occurs when proper pipeline identification measures are not followed accurately. In some cases, he said, pipelines are buried a mere 36 inches below the surface while in others they may be exposed due to soil erosion. In one example of an accidental pipeline strike, Ford indicated a farmer had caused damage to a buried line with a tractor, had noticed strong fumes in the area and only reported the incident the following day upon discovering the extent of the damage and a leak that had caused oil to pool on his property.

“We ask everyone to check for pipeline locations before working,” Ford said on behalf of Plains All American, adding that any damage or leak should be reported immediately through the emergency contact number posted at sites along the line. A national mapping system, he said, enables the public to view all pipelines in the area but should not be used as a substitute for calling before digging or accurately locating the line.

“Sight, sound and smell are usually the first indicators to the public in the event of an accident,” Ford said. “You may see a leak occurring, or you may hear the hiss of gas escaping, and you may detect the smell of hydrogen sulfide, which is present in nearly all of the products we carry.”

Hydrogen sulfide, commonly known by its chemical abbreviation of H2S, is highly toxic and capable of immediately debilitating anyone who is exposed to it. At higher levels or with prolonged exposure, hydrogen sulfide is deadly. The gas is among the most common hazardous materials associated with the energy industry and its presence requires all operators to wear monitors that signal H2S exposure with an alarm.

“All cautionary measures should be taken,” he added. “Emergency responders need to be contacted immediately, and civilians need to be kept away from the site or moved out of the area altogether. The next stages in the process for the responders will be to secure the site, evaluate the situation, determine what protective gear is required, and communicate effectively with all involved parties.”

Tabletop scenarios, such as mock accident response trials and deployment of emergency services, are used in training to help prepare Plains employees as well as local fire and rescue, law enforcement and emergency response teams for hazardous materials to prepare for a live eventuality. All incidents, he said, should be handled in accordance with the statewide-published Emergency Response Guidelines, available both in book form and electronically as an application on a mobile device.

“It’s not just a matter of shutting off a valve,” Ford said of leak prevention and mitigation. “We have to ensure the safety of the general public and of emergency responders. We also require air monitoring after a spill to determine if any evacuation is necessary or if respirators will be required.”

Ford noted that cooperation between all agencies, responders and civic organizations in any area will be vital to limiting risks to public health and to the environment and will help limit the extent of the damage.

“In all situations, an emergency dispatcher provides critical, need-to-know information to the emergency responders,” he said, and concluded his presentation with a slogan that he believes represents the company’s position on safety: “An incident will not define who we are, but where we are going.”

In a brief outline of the Tier II reporting requirements, LEPC members were shown what hazardous material storage must be reported to the state and local agencies and in what quantities. According to Hoyt Henry, team leader of the reporting program at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s Critical Infrastructure Division, all materials that are sufficient in small quantities to seriously maim or kill anyone coming into contact with them must be reported and fully documented, although the reporting period for all materials stored at any sites in Texas is between January and March each year for the previous calendar year. Changes to a hazardous chemicals inventory must be reported within 90 days at any time of the year, and all storage of ammonium nitrate (fertilizer base material) must be reported within 72 hours.

The fertilizer reporting requirement was mandated after an explosion on April 17, 2013, that claimed 17 lives, injured over 160 people and leveled several structures in the rural community of West, in Central Texas.

The Tier II report of all hazardous materials at any facility is designed to help emergency responders prepare for what they may encounter when approaching a site at which an accident, spill or leak may have occurred. Responders will also be able to determine which materials are not compatible with each other and may become additionally hazardous if mixed, possibly causing fire, explosion, toxic fumes or other threats to health and environment.

There is no requirement for the Tier II reporting of gasoline, diesel or propane fuel storage until those materials reach a threshold of 10,000 lbs., according to the TCEQ representative, and there are no requirements for the reporting of any commercially available foods, wood products, drugs, tobacco or cosmetics.

The state agency is presently completing its online site and reporting system and requires that all data be submitted electronically. When it is complete, the TCEQ site will become the largest chemical storage database in the nation, covering over 80,000 facilities, according to Henry.

Material submitted to the new database will be retained for thirty years and includes the site address and coordinates, whether the property or the business is subject to the Clean Air Act, and all relevant contact information for operators or those with access to the facility. Each report must include all data on the chemicals being stored at the site and the range of their quantity – the minimum and maximum amounts that may be at the site at any time – and their location on the property. Since online satellite views of some properties may be of poor resolution, Henry said, Tier II reporting should indicate which building on a site is being used for storing specific chemicals and may include a site map.

Information that energy-related industries and commercial enterprises are required to report in the Tier II system is filed not only with the TCEQ’s State Emergency Response Commission (SERC) but also the Local Emergency Planning Committee and the fire department.

“These reports are being looked at by emergency planners and response agencies,” the TCEQ team leader said. “Those people will need to know exactly where the chemicals are.”

Soteria Solutions representatives Don Smith and Michelle Joseph, who have aided La Salle County in establishing the Fire Rescue & EMS as well as the emergency planning group, outlined the Computer-Aided Management of Emergency Operations (CAMEO) program that will be offered in software for local agencies and enables all key players to gain access to maps and complete Tier II listing as well as locally relevant information, such as the location of schools and other structures that may require evacuating in the event of an emergency. The CAMEO program, Smith said, enables local emergency responders to add weather conditions and other factors that may affect the environmental or health impact of a spill, leak, accident or fire, including the projected path of a spill or plume of a toxin in the atmosphere. The combined data, Smith said, will be vital in assessing a site, determining the possible extent of a spill, fire or explosion, and evaluating quickly what emergency resources are to be deployed.

A training course on the use of the CAMEO system will be offered June 12-14, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, at the EOC in Cotulla.

A training course on AWR-160 standardized awareness, covering the basics of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive (CBRNE) hazards and materials, prevention and deterrence methods, and the Emergency Response Guidebook, will be offered June 21, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., in the EOC at Cotulla.

Registration for both courses is required in advance and should be made immediately with Jose Alejandro at the Texas Department of Public Safety at (956) 489-7083.

In other business at their quarterly meeting, LEPC members approved the nominations of Shelly Ogburn to head the Healthcare & Hospital Committee, replacing Matthew Sealy, who has left his position as director of the Las Palmas Nursing & Rehabilitation Center; and of Mark Linares to the Preparedness & Shelter Committee, replacing Chad Chamness, who is leaving his position as pastor of the First United Methodist Church.

The August 8 meeting of the Local Emergency Planning Committee will include a tabletop workshop on an incident involving hazardous materials.
Brian Ford, representative of Plains All American Pipeline, guest presenter at the May 9 meeting of the Local Emergency Planning Committee in Cotulla.

"An incident will not define who we are, but where we are going..."

- Brian Ford
Plains All American Pipeline

"Those people will need to know exactly where the chemicals are..."

- Hoyt Henry
Texas Commission
on Environmental Quality
​Tier II Reporting Program

FOCUS ON SAFETY – A newly formed La Salle County courthouse security committee works to meet the requirements of Texas Senate Bill 42, aimed at improving protective measures in all of the county’s courtrooms and putting renewed emphasis on the protection of presiding judges. Present for the committee’s first meeting Thursday, April 26, were (back row, L-R) La Salle County Capt. Jose Garcia, Zavala County Bailiff Art Olivarez, La Salle County Judge Joel Rodriguez, La Salle County Bailiff Eddie Deleon, La Salle County Sheriff Miguel Rodriguez, (front row) Estella Olivarez for the county attorney’s office, County & District Clerk Margie Esqueda, and Pct. 1, 5, 6 Justice of the Peace Vicki Rodriguez. Courtroom code of conduct, building security, judges’ escort, emergency evacuation, movement of defendants and separation of potentially violent gang affiliates were among the topics covered at the committee’s first meeting.

La Salle meets SB42, creates security committee

By Marc Robertson
Meeting the requirements of Texas Senate Bill 42, La Salle County has hosted its first meeting of a new courthouse security committee whose focus is on helping to eliminate potential threats to judges and court personnel as well as members of the public.

In approaching the wide scope of the committee’s overview, La Salle County Deputy and Court Bailiff Eddie Deleon addressed committee members Thursday, April 26, in a two-hour meeting that covered the many aspects of courthouse security, movement of detainees, and enhanced safety measures for judges.

Deleon noted that although La Salle County often earns favorable comments from visiting judges for its diligence in courthouse security, the county continues to face hurdles in its effort to minimize threats because of the constraints of working in an 87-year-old building whose historic preservation mandates restrictions on structural alterations. A single central staircase, a limited number of exits, a shortage of secure holding areas, communal hallways, and public exposure to the passage of defendants in custody are among the many features of the building that dates from a time when little thought was given to courthouse security, according to the bailiff.

Among those on the committee are representatives of local and regional government, including County Judge Joel Rodriguez, Sheriff Miguel Rodriguez, Capt. Jose Garcia, Justice of the Peace Vicki Rodriguez, County & District Clerk Margie Esqueda, and Estella Olivarez on behalf of County Attorney Elizabeth Martinez. Present as guest on a fact-finding visit and to share information in a two-county collaboration was Zavala County Bailiff Art Olivarez. Also present at the committee’s inaugural meeting were La Salle justices of the peace George Trigo, Frank Weikel and Janie Megliorino, as well as government and law enforcement representatives.

Deleon noted that Senate Bill 42 was initiated by Senator Judith Zaffirini of Laredo in the wake of courthouse violence in Travis County, among other incidents involving firearms and violence in the courtroom and towards judges and court staff.

“People don’t see reason when they have to face up to their crimes by serving time in prison,” Deleon said. “They think that they can somehow take revenge or make their punishment stop if they attack the judge presiding over their case. They blame the judge for what’s happened to them.”

The La Salle County bailiff added that high-profile trials are not the only situations in which defendants, plaintiffs or members of the public may be driven to acts of violence directed at judges. Child custody hearings, divorce cases and civil cases are equally likely to elicit emotional outbursts, he said, and judges may be at risk of violence or may be targeted at any time.

La Salle County has a strict policy regarding escort and protection of court personnel and has implemented a number of orders for elevated security measures related to the entrance and exit of judges and court staff as well as defendants.

“The state has placed new emphasis on court security,” Deleon said Thursday. “We need to have something in place to meet these new demands. A lot of the changes that we are required to implement are already in place in La Salle County.”

Deleon discussed with committee members some of the challenges he and other officers should expect to face in court, among them the risk of persons carrying weapons of any kind into the courtroom, and emphasized the need for heightened security and strict adherence to the county’s code of conduct for all court proceedings, a document adopted last year and applicable to the justice of the peace and county courts as well as the 81st and 218th judicial district courts.

The bailiff also noted that officers staffing the security checkpoint at the courthouse entrance will exercise additional vigilance with regard to knives and other potential weapons and have begun keeping a daily log of the number of courthouse visitors and the number of prohibited items that have been taken from members of the public and held at the checkpoint until they leave.

State law prevents any member of the public from entering the courthouse with a firearm. Violators are subject to arrest.

Senate Bill 42 also mandates that judges’ personal information – including address and telephone numbers – be removed from public documents; and that any incident of violence in a courtroom be reported and filed within 72 hours.

“A bailiff assumes the responsibility of court security and can be called upon to serve in any courtroom or court hearing in the county,” Deleon said. “That includes justice of the peace courts. We need to have an officer available to provide security to the justices of the peace.

“Court security has gotten to the point where the bailiff is having to consider who is being placed in the courtroom,” Deleon said. “There are people coming to court who want to hurt the judges.”

He added that he believes La Salle County may learn a lesson from an incident at another courthouse in which an assailant with an assault rifle was confronted by security officers who had only been equipped with handguns.

“Be prepared for an assailant with heavier firepower,” the bailiff said.

Deleon said he expects to visit neighboring counties to discuss court security with law enforcement officials, adding that cooperation and information sharing between county governments will help all courthouses in the region meet demands for heightened security and comply with the new senate bill.

“We were ahead of the game when this bill came in,” the bailiff said. “The deadlines on some of these things have already come and gone. Some counties are falling behind on compliance.”

Sheriff Rodriguez said he believes La Salle County’s practices have become an example to others in the region.
“Eddie has done a lot for the county,” the sheriff said of Deleon’s bailiff duties. “Everyone wants his services. Deputies have to understand that we are here to protect the judge. It’s our job.”

La Salle County’s courthouse security committee is responsible for approving local policies and may make recommendations to the county commissioners’ court for the expenditure of funds related to improving courthouse security. The committee may not, however, order the expenditure or dictate budget allocations.

Committee members agreed on a policy that allows officers on security detail to search anyone entering the courthouse. County Clerk Esqueda said she believes security staff should also consider checking those leaving the building, as numerous items have been stolen.

“Every time we have court here in this building, all the toilet paper and soap and disinfectant is stolen from the restrooms,” Esqueda said. “Every time.”

Deleon said he believes all courthouse staff working in public areas of the building should ensure that desktop items that may be used as weapons should be kept out of the public’s reach. He cited an incident in which a court staff member was stabbed in the face with a pencil. In La Salle County, a defendant’s attorney recently discovered that the ink tube had been removed from his pen during the few seconds that a defendant had been left with it. The ink tube was subsequently found by a correctional officer conducting a routine search at the La Salle County Jail.  

JP Rodriguez said she believes all courthouse staff should be familiar with an emergency evacuation plan and that the county government should consider holding a drill in order to determine that the building may be emptied in a safe and timely manner.

“We have to have a plan for every eventuality,” Deleon said, adding that a fire drill may be handled differently than an incident involving firearms. “It may involve locking the courtroom door and seeking cover, but there has to be a plan. Everybody has to be working on the same page.”

Committee members expressed support for La Salle County’s enhanced security measures, including the separation of potentially violent defendants to help eliminate clashes between gang affiliates, and maintaining a log of which inmates are kept in the secure holding areas in the courthouse; upgrading security covering all deliveries to the courthouse, including those from commercial shipping companies; and making detailed reports on the nature and content of any threatening telephone call.

“These are issues that have arisen from court security, and these have been lessons learned,” Deleon said. “We can use them as the basis for policy consideration.”

The committee will meet again in October, when policy upgrades and amendments to the code of conduct may be presented for consideration.

"Be our eyes and ears..."

USBP invites support
from landowners, energy companies

Local Emergency Planning Committee meets Feb. 21
for updates on communications, disaster response

By Marc Robertson
“If you see something, say something” has become a mantra applicable to a wide range of situations, including suspicious activity in the South Texas Brush Country.

A presentation by the US Border Patrol to members of the La Salle County Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) in Cotulla on Wednesday, February 21, included a reminder that it is assistance from landowners and energy industry operators that may enable law enforcement to identify and intercept criminal activity.

USBP Ranch Liaison Agent Gilbert Avilez told his audience in the county’s Emergency Operations Center that he believes increased awareness of potential threats and indicators of illegal activity as well as stronger communication between civilians and officers will do much to enhance regional and border security, reduce crime and help in the apprehension of trespassers, property thieves, and human smugglers.

Something as often ignored as the discovery of empty water bottles along trails in the brush may be significant and may help identify routes that smugglers and other criminals have taken across private land in the past and where they are likely to repeat their journey, Avilez said, citing a recent incident that led to the apprehension of several undocumented immigrants.
US Border Patrol Ranch Liaison Agent Gilbert Avilez of the USBP Cotulla Station addresses members of the La Salle County Local Emergency Planning Committee at a meeting in the Emergency Operations Center in Cotulla on Wednesday, Feb. 21.
Although Avilez’ presentation and an accompanying government-made promotional film were geared towards ranchers and property owners in the border region, many of the elements and pieces of advice contained in them were applicable to the energy industry, the agent said. Oilfield workers and supervisors traveling to remote jobsites are likely to discover signs of criminal activity well in advance of law enforcement, he said, and should take immediate action in reporting the discoveries.

Footpaths where none should be, tire tracks that don’t relate to the energy industry or to ranch use, gates left unlocked, abandoned clothes and food wrappers, and the presence of improperly marked vehicles or signs of trespassing are all indicators that private land may be used by smugglers and by individuals looking to make use of private property or commercial goods at remote sites, Avilez said. In some cases, workers and ranch owners have been approached by strangers and asked to leave gates unlocked at specific locations or have been quizzed about law enforcement patrols, surveillance and security systems, the officer said. In other incidents, vehicles have been “cloned” to resemble oil company trucks in order to appear inconspicuous in South Texas traffic while transporting undocumented immigrants and large quantities of narcotics.

In each case, anyone noting suspicious activity or anomalies should make a report immediately, either to local law enforcement or to the US Border Patrol at its Cotulla Station by calling (210) 242-1646 or by calling the ranch liaison officer directly at (956) 285-4093. The toll-free regional number for reporting criminal activity to the US Border Patrol at the US Department of Homeland Security is 1-855-553-7902.

“We want you to be our eyes and ears across the region,” Avilez said. “Report seeing suspicious vehicles, and make a note of the type of vehicle, the make and color, the license plate, the occupants, and in what direction the vehicle was traveling, and report the location and ranch or company name, with GPS coordinates if possible.”

Avilez distributed a USBP flyer that includes the agency’s plea to the general public for assistance in intercepting criminal activity, adding a caution that smugglers and other trespassers have shown an increasing tendency to violence.

“There is an increase in activity by as much as eighteen percent,” Avilez said. “We are detecting a lot more than normal, when it comes to criminal activity, human smuggling. This includes foot traffic and persons traveling in stolen vehicles.

“The situation has changed,” the ranch liaison agent said. “The mentality has changed. The people we encounter are more prone to violence. You have to be extra cautious with anyone you encounter. They are more likely to become violent when there is any disruption to their business.”

Avilez cited a recent incident in which a truck driver was assaulted by smugglers at a remote site and, although the driver escaped serious injury, law enforcement agents were unable to find those responsible.

“Don’t take it for granted that you won’t encounter them,” Avilez said. “They’re out there. From now until May is regarded as the busy season, before it slows down again due to the heat. We are getting reports of vehicles cutting through ranches, and of break-ins at houses and other structures. They’re looking for food, but they are also stealing weapons.”

The USBP is reporting that while the majority of undocumented immigrants apprehended in South Texas are Mexican nationals, agents have identified increasing numbers of other nationalities among those entering the United States illegally, including citizens of South American, Asian and Arab countries.

The USBP Cotulla Station oversees a patrol area of 6,000 square miles of South Texas Brush Country.

“Whatever help you can give us is appreciated,” the agent said. “We can check it out. Even if you just want to report finding water bottles out there, it’s a great help for you to reach out to us.”

In other business at their quarterly meeting, members of the LEPC heard updates from law enforcement, emergency responders, the energy industry and the Department of Public Safety as well as from local representatives responsible for medical services, emergency shelter, transportation and other components involved in disaster response. The La Salle County Fire Rescue & EMS reported that its call volume has increased but that its local response time is under five minutes, less than the national average, and that a new ladder truck has been put into service. The county department is looking into obtaining an additional ambulance for improved coverage of the county, which includes stations in Cotulla and Encinal.

In a separate presentation, Texas DPS representative Fernando Diaz outlined the US Environmental Protection Agency’s new computer software program for emergency operations management, CAMEO, which combines several resources to aid in disaster preparedness, including accurate mapping, plotting toxic material or fire spreading in different climactic conditions and under specific wind directions, and complete listing of hazardous materials and their effects as well as their potential threat when mixed. The LEPC will receive a more detailed presentation on the CAMEO system at a future meeting.

Energy industry representatives were again reminded by LEPC President Dr. Jack Seals that it is vital all telephone numbers and related contact information be updated and posted on gates, pipelines and industry site fencing in order to facilitate proper notification in the event of an accident. Dr. Seals also noted that the Cotulla ISD Transportation Department’s vehicles are available for emergency evacuation of schools or residential neighborhoods in the event of a disaster.

The next meeting of the La Salle County LEPC will be at noon on Wednesday, May 9, in the EOC on Mars Drive in the Las Palmas development beside IH-35 in Cotulla. A luncheon is made available at 11:30 a.m.
La Salle Fire Rescue & EMS Chief Daniel Mendez, Cotulla ISD Superintendent Dr. Jack Seals and Texas Highway Patrol Sgt. JD Rodriguez are heads of the La Salle County Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC)

Approving bylaws, establishing committees...

Emergency planners cover response times, training, communication

By Marc Robertson
Members of the La Salle County Local Emergency Planning Committee met at noon Wednesday, November 17 in the Larry Griffin Emergency Operations Center to agree on new meeting groups, receive updates on training and reinforce communications between responders and the energy industry.

The LEPC has been meeting quarterly for the past year to establish stronger ties between the oil and gas industries and local government, fire and law enforcement, medical and community services, to coordinate efforts in the event of a disaster or an incident affecting the health and safety of South Texas residents, infrastructure and environment. The organization’s chairman is Cotulla ISD Superintendent Dr. Jack Seals; vice chairman is Texas Highway Patrol Sgt. JD Rodriguez. La Salle County Fire Rescue & EMS Chief Daniel Mendez is the secretary/treasurer. Reporting and scheduling is handled by Jeanette Ramirez for Supt. Seals at Cotulla ISD Central Office.

In a brief presentation to the committee at its recent meeting, Soteria Solutions representative Michelle Joseph said she believes continuing education is vital to the organization’s development and success, and reiterated that those who attend LEPC meetings will garner “nuggets of information” that will contribute to a greater understanding of the purpose of the organization and its capabilities.
Attendees were reminded of the reasons for the establishment of emergency planning committees and the organizations that led to the creation of incident management systems, namely the 1984 leak at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, which resulted in the deaths of thousands living in a community downwind of the facility. The Bhopal incident and others in the same decade, Joseph said, threw light on a need for improved communication between industries and emergency responders, and the drafting of comprehensive plans for response in any incident, particularly those involving hazardous chemicals.

Creation of LEPCs across the country has been mandated by law; La Salle County falls within its eponymous district and is part of a regional emergency response organization. Each committee receives updates on technology, communication systems, training, grant funding for new equipment used by responders, and word from the schools and communities that will be affected in the event of a disaster or other form of emergency. Mass evacuation, monitoring of conditions, accurate reporting to the media, public advisories, safe response and preparedness for hazardous materials, and identification of all threats are key topics of discussion by LEPC members while separate committees specializing in specific areas of expertise focus on pinpointing assets and capabilities.

All members of an LEPC should encourage their agencies to attend training courses on hazardous materials, Joseph said; education opportunities are being coordinated by Fire Chief Mendez. Tabletop drills and mock scenarios, she added, are often vital in promoting a better understanding of an emergency response on a minute-by-minute basis.

An emergency plan reviewed by the LEPC should include critical information on how to respond to specific hazards, Joseph said, and may be the plan already established by a city or county if it meets the guidelines laid down by the state. All emergency plans, she added, should also include identification of evacuation and supply routes – road, rail and air – and designate an emergency coordinator. Identification of all equipment available to responders in the event of an

"You have to prepare for all hazards...
A good example of that was Hurricane Harvey, which was definitely a threat to pipelines and chemicals"
- Michelle Joseph
Soteria Solutions

emergency will be critical, she said, as well as communication with other jurisdictions whose
responders may assist and must be adequately trained in hazardous materials and other threats.

“You have to prepare for all hazards,” Joseph said. “A good example of that was Hurricane Harvey, which was definitely a threat to pipelines and chemicals.”

“Six thousand people came to La Salle County from the coast at that time,” Chief Mendez said of the storm that swept the Gulf Coast at the end of August, coincidentally within days of the quarterly LEPC meeting. “They should have gone to San Antonio, but they came here. Companies immediately stepped up to the call by freeing up rooms they had booked at local hotels, so a lot of evacuees were accommodated.

“We also have to keep the roads clear in the event of an emergency, and that includes an incident like Hurricane Harvey,” the fire chief added. “We were able to do this as a direct result of having coordinated our resources and discussed this type of response at these LEPC meetings.”

Committee members went on to approve the creation of state-mandated standing committees encompassing the various branches of an emergency response network and incorporating the former locally developed committees that represented government, law enforcement, industry, technology, healthcare, the media, and community groups. Only four committees are required for an LEPC but include key players from a range of industry, responder, government and community groups. Committees approved by the membership on Nov. 15 include right to know, public education and information, hazardous materials facility liaison, and emergency response and resources.

Those attending on Nov. 15 also approved the LEPCs bylaws, which were drafted based on state standards.

Local committee reports were submitted to the organization, covering the period from August to November, and included comments by Fire Chief Mendez on the number of calls his firefighters and medics have responded to in recent weeks as well as the accomplishment of a goal he had set for the department, namely to log a response time of less than five minutes. Mendez also noted that the department has taken delivery of a new ladder truck that will give responders access to all structures in the county – including multistory hotels – and that the vehicle’s deployment is expected to help lower the county’s ISO rating, meaning a decrease in property insurance rates for home and business owners because of the fire department’s increased capability.

Mendez noted that a small number of seats remain available in a four-day training course on advanced-level incident command, December 19-22.

The La Salle County LEPC will hold its next meeting in the Emergency Operations Center at noon on February 21. Lunch was provided at the Nov. 15 meeting courtesy of Orozco's Crane & Towing.  

Honoring our Veterans

La Salle County Sheriff's Office salutes its personnel
who served their country in the armed forces

By Marc Robertson
In advance of Veterans Day this year, the La Salle County Sheriff’s Office is recognizing its law enforcement personnel who served the United States in the armed forces, including active duty in conflicts overseas and in peacetime.

The following sheriff’s officers are US armed forces veterans:

Deputy Jose Avila – Lance Corporal, US Marine Corps; two years of service.

Lieutenant Michael Lynn Bostwick – Master Sergeant, US Army Special Forces, Army Rangers; 21 years of service; Vietnam (three tours), Dominican Republic, Grenada.

Deputy & Court Bailiff Eddie DeLeon - Specialist E4, US Army; three years of service; Korean border Demilitarized Zone.

Deputy Rolando Flores - Staff Sergeant, US Army; 15 years of service; Korean border Demilitarized Zone (two tours), Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq (two tours), Afghanistan.

Sgt. Rickey Galvan – Master Sergeant, US Marine Corps; 21 years on active duty, Pacific Islands; nine years in reserves.

Capt. Jose D. Garcia Jr. – Specialist E4, US Army; four years of service; West Germany.

Deputy Julian Lopez – Specialist, US Army; four years of service, currently in US National Guard; US Army paratrooper, Alaska.

“We are grateful to all those who have served their country in times of war and peace and who have helped defend the liberties we enjoy as Americans,” Sheriff Rodriguez said. “As a law enforcement community, we are proud of the discipline, high standards of duty and dedication to service that our officers have demonstrated in their careers, and as a community we are indebted to those who have answered the call to stand in the face of danger and protect our American values from all enemies, for the sake of their homeland and for the American people.”

MRGDC magazine features
dispatch supervisor

The Middle Rio Grande Development Council has selected La Salle County Dispatch Office Supervisor Sandi Ibarra for a spotlight feature in the second issue of its ‘Homeland Monthly’ magazine.

Ibarra has served as an emergency response telecommunicator in the dispatch office for the county for 20 years, having joined the service in 1997.

The magazine feature story includes her description of the challenges she faces on the job and her belief in the value of the emergency dispatch to the community.

The magazine can be found online at www.mrgdc.org and includes stories on communications systems upgrades, technology, recent events, upcoming festivals and family-oriented functions, education and grant resources, and emergency management updates.

The Middle Rio Grande Development Council is headquartered at 307 West Nopal Street in Carrizo Springs and is active in several South Texas counties, serving the public through workforce assistance, access to vital resources, promoting economic development, training and grant work.

It's been a pink month...

Emergency responders promote cancer awareness with color

La Salle County firefighters, medics and other emergency responders have made a visible statement of support for this year’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October by wearing bright pink shirts on the job each day.

The project was funded by the county and approved by the commissioners’ court as part of the nationwide ‘Real Men Wear Pink’ awareness campaign for the American Cancer Society. La Salle County’s shirts this year featured the fire and rescue service’s logo and distinctive cobra-themed ‘strike back against breast cancer’ artwork.

The brightly colored shirts are designed to attract attention to the need for increased awareness of cancer intervention and the need for a cure; American Cancer Society representatives have pushed for increased publicity in 2017 and accomplished it by garnering the support of local governments, law enforcement, firefighters, medics, schools, and community groups.

"I'm proud of our fire department for taking part in the ‘Real Men Wear Pink’ campaign and excited to see so many leaders across the country do the same," La Salle County Judge Joel Rodriguez said. “Our county commissioners’ court was happy the county could purchase the pink t-shirts to allow the Fire Rescue & EMS team to promote breast cancer awareness.”

The American Cancer Society reports that an estimated 252,710 people across the country will have been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017 alone. In addition, 2,407 men will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer this year. The society also reports that it believes huge strides have been made towards better treatment and finding a cure. Breast cancer death rates have declined by 38 percent from a peak in 1989 to 2014, representing 297,300 fewer breast cancer deaths today.

In addition to community and business leaders who support the American Cancer Society in its efforts to diminish the pain and suffering of breast cancer, communities across the country united in ‘Making Strides Against Breast Cancer’ events during October.

The American Cancer Society is a global grassroots force of nearly two million volunteers dedicated to saving lives, celebrating lives, and leading the fight for a world without cancer. From breakthrough research, to free lodging near treatment, a 24/7/365 live helpline, free rides to treatment, and convening powerful activists to create awareness and impact, the society reports that it is the only organization attacking cancer from every angle. For more information, go to www.cancer.org.