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Tri-EPIC joins state's short list

Full certification opens door for government funding

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November 22, 2010
For most people, emergency planning is limited to keeping a stockpile of batteries, candles and maybe some canned food.

Not so for the people of Tri-EPIC, the four-town Emergency Planning Committee covering Southbridge, Sturbridge, Charlton and Dudley. They spend time thinking about and practicing for disaster on a large scale, from toxic chemical spills to long power outages, big hurricanes to fires displacing many people, pandemic diseases to hostage takings.

Recently, the state granted Tri-EPIC full certification status, the highest of four categories under which it oversees such groups. The state's website lists dozens of "certified" committees, including 24 regionals, but doesn't indicate which ones fall into each category.

According to Tri-EPIC co-chair Roland LaRochelle, that opens the doors for local emergency providers to get various funding and other aid not otherwise available, and makes the group just one of eight fully-certified statewide. That's primarily a matter of pulling together a large quantity of documentation covering personnel training, equipment, "special hazards" in each town, accounting and other details, which fellow co-chair Terri Gough has been coordinating for the last few months.

"We can go just about anywhere with it now; getting [certified] is huge. It brings us the backing of the state, which is a huge resource," Gough said. "… Right now, if we have a long-term event, we'd be able to handle it for days. I think we're prepared for almost anything, with all the multiple skill sets we bring to the table. I can't think of a situation outside of total annihilation" they couldn't handle.

To her, the group's greatest strength is that it has "cut down on the chaos and dysfunction" by bringing together emergency services that used to have different methods, radio frequencies and so on. Doing that has made the region better able to weather disaster, but a crucial next step is to reach out more to everyday residents to educate and involve them.

For more on this story, please see tomorrow's Southbridge Evening News.

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