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Llano County emergency services unite for planning

Llano Emergency Planning Committee Chairman Gilbert Bennett

Llano Emergency Planning Committee Chairman Gilbert Bennett begins his presentation on countywide safety during the committee's first bi-annual meeting of 2023. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

A group of Llano County officials and emergency services leaders gathered for the first Llano Emergency Planning Committee meeting of 2023 on Wednesday, March 1. The committee discussed the challenges the county faces from an emergency management perspective as well as focused on building relationships among emergency services organizations that rarely meet outside of urgent situations.

The meeting was led by committee Chairman Gilbert Bennett, who is also Llano County’s emergency management coordinator. He is responsible for preparing the county for disasters and handling the aftermath of emergencies such as fires, floods, storms, and chemical spills. 

“I think this is the glue that bonds us,” Bennett said to the committee. “We don’t have to wait for an emergency to happen to get to know each other.”

He put an emphasis on the importance of first responders, local leaders, and media having strong relationships so emergencies can be handled more effectively when they inevitably occur.

Organizations like the Llano Emergency Planning Committee were created by law in 1986 with the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act. This act was passed after the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster in which thousands of people were killed after a pesticide plant leaked lethal levels of methyl isocyanate gas into the city of Bhopal in Central India.

A recent chemical disaster hit closer to home. A train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3 resulted in the release of highly corrosive hydrogen chloride gas and other toxins into the air. Residents had to be evacuated and are still seeking answers to safety questions.

“Llano County isn’t inundated with hazardous materials, but we do have a lot of issues concerning safety,” Bennett told DailyTrib.com.

The committee’s agenda consisted of Llano Independent School District safety points, public health concerns, wildfire risks, police operations reports, dispatch and communications reports, adjustments to the county’s Hazardous Mitigation Action Plan, and planning for the solar eclipse in April 2024

The committee has a diverse membership, including police chiefs, fire chiefs, city managers, dispatchers, emergency management officials, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officers, LISD leadership, and Texas Department of Transportation officials.

“This (committee) gives an open forum where everyone can get to know each other,” Bennett said. “This solidifies your (emergency) response.”

The committee will meet again in August.

dakota@thepicayune.com