The fourthInterim Joint Committee on State Government was held on Wednesday, October 7, 2009, at 1:00 PM (CDT), in Princeton, Kentucky, at the City Hall/Welcome Center. Representative Mike Cherry, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.meeting of the
Members:Representative Mike Cherry, Co-Chair; Senators Julian Carroll, Carroll Gibson, Dan Kelly, Mike Reynolds, and Robin Webb; Representatives Eddie Ballard, Dwight Butler, John "Bam" Carney, James Comer, Jr., Will Coursey, Jim Glenn, Derrick Graham, Mike Harmon, Melvin Henley, Charlie Hoffman, Mary Lou Marzian, Darryl Owens, Tanya Pullin, Tom Riner, Steven Rudy, Kent Stevens, Tommy Thompson, Jim Wayne, and Brent Yonts. (Representative Jody Richards also sat in with the Committee.)
Guests: Gale Cherry, Princeton City Government; Brock Thomas, Caldwell County Government; Fred Brown, Crittenden County Government; Chris Lasher, Livingston County Government; Van Newberry, McCracken County Government; Major General Edward Tonini, Brigadier General John Heltzel, and Steven Bullard - Kentucky Department of Military Affairs; Helen Helton, Stephanie Bell, and Wayne Miller – Kentucky Public Service Commission; Brad Hall, Kentucky Pharmacists Association.
LRC Staff: Judy Fritz, Kevin Devlin, Alisha Miller, Bill VanArsdall, and Peggy Sciantarelli.
Representative Cherry and his wife, Princeton Mayor Gale Cherry, welcomed everyone to Princeton. Representative Cherry announced social activities that would be available after the meeting. He also noted that the meeting is being held in a renovated building that was once the First Christian Church. A video featuring the city’s “Paint the Town” restoration project was then shown. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss emergency response to the ice storm of January 2009. Photographs of the ice storm in western Kentucky counties were on display in the meeting room lobby.
County judge/executives from Representative Cherry’s legislative district were the first persons to testify: Brock Thomas (Caldwell County); Fred Brown (Crittenden County); Chris Lasher (Livingston County); and Van Newberry (McCracken County). They discussed in detail how the ice storm impacted communities in their counties; emergency response efforts at the local, state and federal level; success in meeting the challenge; and what could have been done to enhance and improve upon those efforts. They also expressed gratitude for all the help that was received.
Mr. Thomas said that help came in from other counties and that many aspects of the response in his county were handled well. He said, however, that preparedness needs improvement with respect to communication with state responders, shelter space, and availability of generators.
Mr. Brown said that welfare checks by local emergency services personnel, the National Guard, and the Boy Scouts saved at least six lives in his county. He said that emergency services personnel, volunteers and residents of his county were aware of the resources that were available when the ice storm struck and what they were up against. He commended all for their quick response.
Mr. Lasher said they knew early on that about 10 percent of the county’s population of 10,000 would be unable to help themselves. He said he is proud to be able to say that everyone survived. One of the most important lessons learned was that in a disaster of that magnitude the county should expect to be on its own for five to seven days. Also, emergency plans need to be simplified, because the state’s emergency operations plan book is too complicated and too lengthy.
Mr. Newberry said that since McCracken County is one of the larger counties, with about 65,000 people, help came quickly and the county was aggressive in its response. He said fuel was stockpiled and shelters were readied in advance. He expressed gratitude for all the personnel and volunteers who helped get the roads open quickly, and he especially commended the Paducah Amateur Radio Association and the National Guard for their assistance.
Representative Cherry recognized emergency management personnel and county officials in the audience. Lyon County Judge/Executive James Campbell was present and, when invited by Representative Cherry, spoke briefly from the audience about the ice storm in his county.
Senator Carroll asked about cell phone coverage following the ice storm. Mr. Brown said that communication was a major problem. He said the AT&T network was totally down but that, through the efforts of a local Verizon dealer, within six hours the local emergency operations center (EOC) was provided approximately 45 Verizon phones charged and ready to use. The phones were shared with the National Guard and emergency personnel. He said the county also had access to two satellite radios but they would not work because of the dense cloud cover. He added that, thanks to Homeland Security, a new mobile tower will be coming to his county and can be shared with surrounding counties. Mr. Lasher said that cell phones in his county were down completely during the first 24-48 hours but that Verizon coverage later resumed. He said they were able to communicate with EOC in Frankfort by satellite phone but that the state EOC was overwhelmed with calls; he had to declare a disaster in Livingston county six times before being acknowledged. Land lines were down for a week or more.
Representative Rudy asked about the status of debris removal. Mr. Newberry said that in McCracken County the cost of debris removal for state, city and county roads will be about $10 million. He said it appears that the county will be responsible for about 1.5 percent of the $3.5 million debris removal bill for county roads alone. He expressed gratitude to the state, which will cover 12 percent of the cost. He said all of the money has not been paid out yet but should be available before long, according to General Heltzel. He said that FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) debris removal was underway quickly—within six or seven days. In the event of another disaster, however, he hopes that FEMA will send in the “real” front line people immediately. The public relations personnel who arrived first were not much help in the beginning. Mr. Brown said that debris problems will continue for years as debris continues to wash down from surrounding watersheds during heavy rains.
Senator Gibson said the counties in his district were similarly affected. He suggested it would be helpful in the future to have a regional repository for emergency equipment that would allow quicker access. He said, too, he thinks it is important that there be more control at the local level.
Mr. Lasher emphasized the need to simplify the process and follow common sense. To illustrate, he said that counties had been able to acquire generators to keep the water system functioning; however, FEMA forced them to unhook operating generators so that FEMA could hook theirs up. He questioned how this made sense and why they lost local control in this instance. Mr. Brown agreed with Mr. Lasher. He said there was a similar occurrence at the water plant in Marion, Kentucky. FEMA threatened that the county would not be reimbursed for the cost of the rented generator unless FEMA’s generator was used. However, the FEMA generator had to be taken offline because it blew the circuitry, and a repairman had to be called to reinstall the initial generator. He said he, personally, would prefer not to have FEMA come in until actual recovery is underway. Mr. Thomas concurred.
Representative Owens asked whether there was any effort to prepare citizens to be own their own initially. Mr. Newberry said he thinks it would be wise at both the state and local level to place greater emphasis on having people prepare to be on their own during the initial days of an emergency. Mr. Lasher agreed. He said the 2009 ice storm was an eye opener and that he personally had not been prepared even though the county had dealt with an ice storm the previous year. He suggested using public service announcements to remind citizens to be prepared and stay prepared.
Representative Cherry thanked the county judges and welcomed the next speakers: Major General Edward Tonini, Adjutant General of Kentucky, and Brigadier General John Heltzel, Director of the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management (KYEM). Colonel Steve Bullard, Department of Military Affairs, accompanied them. They provided copies of their PowerPoint presentation to the Committee.
General Tonini commended the Kentucky National Guard for being a spearhead for the lifesaving mission and assisting in the cleanup and relief efforts after the incredibly destructive ice storm. He gave an overview of those operations and made recommendations for the future.
General Tonini said that the January ice storm was the most catastrophic natural disaster to strike Kentucky since the New Madrid earthquake of the early 1800s. He said it effectively paralyzed the entire western half of the state. More than 769,000 Kentucky homes were without power—representing 36 percent of all electrical customers in the Commonwealth. The means to communicate was lost in much of the state. In the hardest hit area of Western Kentucky all land lines, microwave, cellular, and emergency communications were out of service. Without power, municipal water plants could not provide water to more than 250,000 customers. Primary and secondary roads were impassable. A state of emergency was declared in 103 of Kentucky’s 120 counties. At least 36 Kentuckians lost their lives—most while fighting the extreme cold weather or through carbon monoxide asphyxiation from improper ventilation of makeshift home heating. In keeping with the New Madrid response operations (ops) plan, Kentucky’s state EOC was immediately brought to full strength with representatives from all state agencies, under the direction of General Heltzel, who designed the March 2008 seismic exercise that in essence served as a rehearsal for the “battle” to be fought during the ice storm. Simultaneously, 1,600 members of the Kentucky National Guard were dispatched to the hardest hit areas to begin assisting local authorities.
General Tonini said that the initial reaction of the emergency response force was typical—measured and somewhat tempered. He said that Kentucky’s Division of Emergency Management began an immediate dialogue with FEMA for the delivery of food, water and generators to Ft. Campbell for distribution to two National Guard logistics support areas and regional points of distribution. The Governor declared a state of emergency on January 27, followed by the unprecedented activation of all available Kentucky Army National Guard units and select portions of the Kentucky Air National Guard. Contact with FEMA and Homeland Security occurred immediately after the storm left eastern Kentucky. The Governor’s order placed an additional 3,000 National Guard soldiers and airmen into the effort, bringing the number mobilized to 4,600—the largest state call-up of Kentucky National Guard forces in the history of the Commonwealth. Through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), National Guard personnel and equipment from Florida, Indiana, Tennessee, Ohio, Wisconsin, and West Virginia flowed into Kentucky. Troops worked with local emergency management agencies, fire departments, search and rescue squads, law enforcement agencies and volunteers to conduct wellness checks for all households in the affected counties. KYEM immediately set up regional EOCs with power and satellite communications; established or reestablished emergency communications; provided support to AT&T, the primary cell phone service in the area, to get power back to cell towers; and created a distribution chain to expedite the flow of emergency resources. More than 1.3 million meals and more than 2.1 million bottles of water were distributed. An immediate priority was placed on restoration of power to water plants, communications facilities, shelters, and nursing homes.
General Tonini said that a first ever Joint Power Operations Center was established, with representatives of FEMA and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers working alongside KYEM and National Guard personnel to prioritize and emplace more than 150 generators in order to energize critical infrastructures. He said that while the operation was not flawless, he believes it was one of the most successful such operations in the history of the country. As a result of the identified need, Congressman Rogers requested a $6.1 million grant for generators for the Kentucky National Guard to pre-position around the Commonwealth.
General Tonini said that Kentucky’s Bluegrass Station in Lexington houses the largest storage facility for emergency equipment in America. He said that, although some local officials felt that it took a long time to get minimal essential equipment after the ice storm, it would have taken much longer in any other state. He also said that having an annual FEMA-funded disaster exercise is a must and that Kentucky does not currently have this. He stated that this type of exercise must be part of the Homeland Security federally funded program and should not have to compete with or degrade the military resources intended to fund training for military combat readiness.
General Tonini said that there were frustrations with FEMA but that, all in all, he would give FEMA a very good grade for their assistance in the recovery effort. Concluding his presentation, he commended Governor Beshear, the unity of effort exemplified by the National Guard and KYEM, the door-to-door wellness checks by the Army and Air Guard, and the spirit of the people of Kentucky during this emergency.
Representative Pullin expressed appreciation for this opportunity to hear from local and state officials. She said that near the end of the 2009 legislative session, the General Assembly in a bipartisan manner passed legislation [HB 541] which she co-sponsored to compensate National Guardsmen who were disabled as a result of injury during the 2009 winter storm. She said that legislation will be proposed in 2010 to amend the law [KRS 38.030] to make those provisions permanent. General Tonini said that 10 guardsmen had suffered serious injuries that required substantive time off from their jobs. He expressed appreciation for the legislature’s concern for members of the military.
General Heltzel was next to speak. He said that KYEM’s response to the ice storm was not as good as they would have liked but that he was pleased with how well they did. He said the Division is small, with only about 60 employees, and that 360 years of senior experience were lost from the Division during the last six months of 2008. He discussed positive elements of the disaster recovery. They included quick action by the communities, which was responsible for saving a number of lives; unified command of the responders; cooperation of partners in state government cabinets; experience in the New Madrid 2008 exercise; deployment of the Guard; dedicated emergency management personnel at all levels; and support at the national level by FEMA and others. He particularly commended county emergency management personnel, many of whom are volunteers. He said there was some frustration with FEMA but that the recovery could not have been completed without FEMA stepping in.
General Heltzel said that logistics continues to be an issue but that he is pleased that the team fielded and executed more than 1,200 support requests across the state within two weeks. He said the logistics system that was established was termed “world class” by FEMA. Logistical supply activities were set up at the Wendell Ford Training Center and in Paducah and Owensboro, moving more than 2.1 million containers of water and more than 1.3 million meals into the communities. Through team effort, more than 168 generators were installed statewide. In comparison to hurricanes Ike and Katrina, Kentucky set the record for the fastest installation of generators ever in a disaster situation. The problems experienced with generators were partially due to the fact that Kentucky had never conducted critical infrastructure assessments. The Acting FEMA Director made funds available to Kentucky, and the Corps of Engineers and Kentucky guardsmen stayed an extra two weeks to complete 2,318 critical facilities assessments that are now on file for future reference.
General Heltzel spoke about where improvements were needed. He said that the regional emergency operations centers set up at the Wendell Ford Training Center, in Benton and Owensboro were not able to consolidate information and relay it to Frankfort. The emergency management function has been merged with the Kentucky National Guard Task Force, and now there is enough staff but not enough equipment. Regional emergency operations centers need to be established across the Commonwealth, with access to all forms of communication, generators, water, etc. During the ice storm there was a shortage of regional managers. There are now 11 managers instead of 10. Resource management needs to be improved, and within the next six months KYEM expects to have one of the most comprehensive sets of emergency resource equipment and personnel in the nation.
General Heltzel said the state EOC facility needs four times the current number of personnel and that plans are in process to secure federal funds for this purpose. Training of county officials has been lacking across the Commonwealth. He said that the knowledge and awareness exemplified by the county officials at today’s meeting are not representative of all areas of the state. KYEM is also working to improve understanding of the emergency management process, build on the emergency planning process at the county level, and to offer a certification program for county emergency management teams.
General Heltzel said that after the ice storm the state EOC implemented a new process for catastrophic operations that includes strategic planning, analysis of data, and consolidation of information from all strategic Commonwealth groups. He said the new process was validated during the pandemic flu exercise in August. Training of county officials in the new resource management system is underway. He said it is important to have community involvement in local preparedness and that full-time directors are needed in the counties. Fifty percent of the directors’ salaries would be underwritten by a federal grant if the state is able to fund the other 50 percent. He said KYEM has worked hard to improve communications since the ice storm, including communicating the true status of emergency preparedness. They are now conducting the first round of assessments at the county level and will be happy to provide that information when it becomes available. He also spoke about the importance of individual preparedness and preparedness at the community and state levels.
General Heltzel said that the issue of critical manning at KYEM has been fixed, thanks to the support of the Governor, General Tonini and federal funds. The recovery section, which previously was down to three, now has 28 staff. In September alone $55,000,000 in claims was paid out—more than in the last five years combined. He said that KYEM has a new system and a new attitude, with a level of transparency that has never existed before. Kentucky is currently in the process of planning for and distributing $60,000,000 in mitigation funds to local communities. Because Kentucky is the first “enhanced state,” the mitigation program is superior in southeast Region IV and therefore receives 20 percent of disaster funds, whereas other states only receive 15 percent.
General Heltzel said that the ice storm was responsible for the creation of 2,320 project worksheets, compared to a previous high of 500 in Kentucky. The total value of the projects was $273,953,976, of which $239,630,704 is reimbursable. KYEM has paid out $113,896,071, or 48 percent of project costs, and all of the 103 disaster counties but three—Allen, Casey, and Martin—have received payments. He also briefly discussed costs associated with other recent Kentucky disasters.
In closing, General Heltzel said he would make sure that county judges are made aware of the National Resource Conservation Service grant program, which may be able to assist in the removal of ice storm debris from creeks. He said the grant is not administered by KYEM but that its main funding issue is the clearing of waterways.
Representative Graham asked how information is being disseminated to county officials. General Heltzel said he had attended several meetings of county judges and also is working with KACO (Kentucky Association of Counties) to get the information out. He said a number of county judges attended the Governor’s Emergency Management Workshop in Louisville this year, hosted by KYEM, and that the state’s regional emergency managers also routinely contact county judges. He said it is an ongoing process that he takes very seriously. Informational literature is also available on KYEM’s web site. Regarding the county emergency response plan books, General Heltzel said they have now been reduced to about 100 pages and are easier to read. He said the ice storm counties that had an involved county judge/executive, a trained emergency management director, and input from the community responded very well; counties that lacked any of those components struggled.
Representative Thompson said he appreciates the Generals’ comments. He said that reimbursement for ice storm cleanup that had to be paid from depleted county budgets is one problem that persists in his district (Daviess and Ohio Counties) and some other western Kentucky counties and that he would appreciate any help to expedite these payments. General Heltzel said he would look into this if those county officials would contact his office and reference today’s conversation. He stated that Kentucky has implemented the rapid recovery payment system and is the first state in the southeast to do so. He said a closeout inspection by FEMA has to occur prior to reimbursement but that KYEM can pay up to 90 percent to counties that have properly completed the paperwork. He said that a month ago there was a shortage of FEMA personnel in Kentucky who could do a close-out inspection; however, after notifying Region IV administrator Phil May, FEMA has doubled its staff here and is now doing closeouts daily and weekly.
Representative Yonts said he thinks that at the local level there should be a designated person to relay information to the media and the public in order to avoid misinformation. General Heltzel agreed that there is often misinformation. He explained that, by law, communities are supposed to follow the ICS (Incident Command System) model, which is a mandated process for use in emergency management at all levels that says “who talks when.” Representative Yonts expressed thanks to the National Guard and KYEM for their well orchestrated effort in saving lives. He extended special thanks to Command Sergeant Major Armstrong, who was present.
Representative Carney complimented the officials involved in the ice storm recovery. He said he was happy to hear about the New Madrid rehearsal and asked how often the exercise would be conducted. General Heltzel said that KYEM is now involved in preparing the entire state for the World Equestrian Games that will be held in the fall of 2010. He said there will be a national level exercise in May 2011—the New Madrid response plan for the Central United States Earthquake Consortium (CUSEC). It will be the largest exercise in the history of the nation. Representative Carney said he is concerned about the communications issue. He suggested that perhaps there should be a greater investment in hand-held radios. General Heltzel said all counties need EOCs capable of the full spectrum of communications, as well as power, water, and a trained staff, but that he does not know how it can be funded. He said that KYEM should have completed a capability assessment of all county EOCs by the end of the year. General Tonini said he is working at the federal level with respect to a future technology that will give cell phones the capability of connecting to both satellites and cell towers. He said that if specific emergency responders were to have that dual capacity, it would solve much of the communications problem.
Representative Coursey asked about the National Resource Conservation Service grant for waterway cleanup. General Heltzel said he did not have any information about that with him today. He suggested that questions about the grant should be addressed to the Kentucky Division of Water. Representative Cherry said he is also interested in waterway cleanup. He directed staff to transmit information about the grant program to members of the Committee.
Representative Coursey asked about the availability of federal funds to pay full-time county emergency management directors, which had been mentioned earlier. General Heltzel said there is a federal emergency management assistance program in which federal funds from EMTG grants can be matched with state funds. He acknowledged that resources are tight at the county level and said it is his goal to have an emergency manager in every county if matching funds can be found at the state level. He said this is included in proposals that will be submitted to the Governor.
Representative Stevens asked what is being done to inform the general public about the importance of individual preparedness. General Heltzel said that they have tried public service announcements and radio spots but that they do not seem to have much impact. He said they are taking a new approach by commissioning two teachers to create an earthquake preparedness lesson of instruction for the third through fifth grades that, hopefully, will begin in the first week of February, which is National Earthquake Preparedness Month.
Senator Webb asked about the cost, viability, and geographic distribution of mobile towers. General Heltzel said he would need to get back with Senator Webb later regarding her question. He went on to say that regardless of who owns equipment, it can be moved in a state of emergency. Part of the communications solution in the future will be “things that we do not leave outside” that can be redeployed. One problem with satellite radios during the ice storm was that the antennas were coated with ice and subject to damage during attempts to de-ice. Senator Webb said she would like to see the strategic communication plan include placement on a regional basis for deployment in area development districts, perhaps, or clusters of counties based on accessibility and population.
Senator Webb asked whether KYEM will be submitting recommendations to the legislature regarding how to incent counties that are inadequately funded to work toward having a full-time emergency management director. General Heltzel said he would welcome the opportunity to present the legislature with the results of KYEM’s assessment of the county EOCs. He said the assessments are not intended as a report card but rather a way to provide a strategic picture of the state and determine where the focus should be. Senator Webb said she thinks the legislature would like to have this type of information.
Senator Carroll said it was reported today that the estimated total value of the disaster was $273+ million. He said, however, he learned last night at a local meeting that Farm Bureau has paid out over $1 billion in claims.
There were no additional questions, and Representative Cherry thanked the speakers. The next speaker was Helen Helton, General Counsel for the Kentucky Public Service Commission (PSC). She was accompanied by Stephanie Bell, Legislative Liaison, and Wayne Miller, Director of Financial Analysis.
During her presentation, Ms. Helton referred to a displayed map entitled, “Electric Distribution Service Areas, With January 2009 Ice Storm Accumulations.” Ms. Helton discussed the Commission’s review of utility performance during the power outages caused by the January ice storm. She said the ice storm created the most extensive power outage in the state’s history, breaking the record set by Hurricane Ike in September 2008. She also expressed gratitude for the response efforts at the state, local, and national level.
Ms. Helton said the PSC’s main focus is on utilities within its jurisdiction. She said they have obtained massive amounts of information from the utilities and are in the process of drafting a report of the findings and recommendations. The report should be ready for release by mid-November. It will be distributed to all legislators and also posted on the PSC web site. Initial survey inquiries were sent in early April to the utilities and to legislators in the affected areas. Requests for information were also sent to county judges, mayors, metro and urban county council members in Jefferson and Fayette County, and members of the Kentucky Industrial Utility Customers (KUIC) organization. Information was also collected from consumers.
Ms. Helton said there are 14 electric providers in the areas hit hardest by the ice storm. Only the four providers that are under PSC jurisdiction were required to respond, but utilities not regulated by the PSC have also been forthcoming with information. She said that utilities in the state had to replace 10,066 poles that broke in the storm—enough poles to carry line from one end of the state to the other. It is hoped that the completed report will initiate vigorous discussion and will lead to improved disaster planning. Ms. Helton said that subsequent to issuance of the report, the PSC would be happy to appear again before the State Government Committee to answer questions and would also be willing to work with all the agencies involved in the disaster.
Senator Webb asked whether the report will include any dialogue about communication issues. She said that in her district in Lewis County communication had been a problem during power outages. Ms. Helton said that PSC will be recommending ways to improve communications with the utilities, which was a large problem during the ice storm. She said that PSC established this case in order to gather facts rather than having to speculate how to improve response. The difference between services that have battery back-up versus generator plans will also be part of the report.
Representative Cherry thanked Ms. Helton, Ms. Bell, and Mr. Miller and said he hopes to have them return to another meeting to discuss the report. The final speaker was Brad Hall, Executive Director of the Kentucky Pharmacists Association, headquartered in Frankfort.
Mr. Hall discussed how the pharmacist community responded to the ice storm. He said that as part of the Association’s commitment to the community, the Board of Directors volunteered him to support Dr. William Hacker, Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Public Health, as a resource for pharmaceutical issues.
Mr. Hall cited examples of assistance given by local pharmacies during the ice storm to assist citizens in obtaining needed medication and supplies. He said he would like to work with the General Assembly on opportunities that would give pharmacists the ability to better serve constituents.
Senator Carroll asked whether the Association’s proposals would extend to narcotics. Mr. Hall said that they would offer that as an option, primarily for maintenance medications. When Senator Carroll asked, Mr. Hall said that use of the KASPER (Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting) system would absolutely be part of the discussion.
Representative Cherry thanked Mr. Hall. Business concluded, and the meeting was adjourned at 3:40 p.m.
(Note: Because a quorum was not present, the minutes of the September 23 meeting were not approved.)