In light of the destruction and other difficulties experienced around the Gulf Coast by Hurricane Katrina, "all the counties are relooking at what they're going to do" in the event of a disaster in Missouri, according to Martin Priggel, Scott County's presiding commissioner.
Following welcoming remarks and a brief history of Commerce by County Developer Joel Evans, Priggel presented an overview of the transportation project which will connect Scott City with Rural Route AB/Nash Road by extending the outer road along the east side of Interstate 55 south and building a bridge over Ramsey Creek.
The primary reason for the project is to relieve traffic congestion in Scott City at the Interstate 55/Highway 61 interchanges as improvements there are not feasible due to railroad tracks and a school.
Priggel said the project is important for the county because the area between Sikeston and Cape Girardeau will be a good place for housing once it is more accessible.
"It will give room for the county to grow," Priggel said. "It will open up that whole area."
In addition to addressing traffic concerns, the project may provide the only route north able to survive a major earthquake as the new bridge will be built to withstand seismic activity unlike existing bridges in the area.
Commissioner Jamie Burger then discussed the merger of the county's E-911 call center with the Sheriff's Department dispatching to establish the Scott County Communication Center at the Scott County Jail.
"It's something we've wanted to do for a long time," he said.
Burger said the communication center will eliminate the duplication of services. Additionally, as the jail was built to withstand seismic activity, it has a better chance of surviving an earthquake intact than the old call center at Morley, he said. The jail is also equipped with generators in the event of a power loss.
Priggel said his sister lives in Bay St. Louis and that he has experienced first-
hand how communication "really comes into big play" in a large-scale disaster.
Steve Duke, executive director for the Bootheel Regional Planning and Economic Development Commission at Malden, advised the Office of Homeland Security in Jefferson City is working with regional planning commissions around the state to organize regional planning for emergencies with a focus on communications.
The county is also taking other measures to prepare for a disaster.
"We're going to start compiling a list of resources we have throughout the county," Burger said. He said this is important because "it takes FEMA a couple of days to activate ... and with an earthquake, we'll have no warning. ... We know we're going to be on our own for two or three days."
Burger said the list will be shared with city officials in the county and will be continuously updated.
Sikeston Mayor Mike Marshall said the city of Sikeston is also compiling a list of resources and has meetings planned with area utility companies, the phone company and the hospital.
Doug Friend, Sikeston's city manager, said the meetings will be held in November, December and January at the Clinton Building and will be followed by a tabletop exercise sometime in April or May during which officials will roleplay their way through an earthquake scenario.
Marshall said that, unlike a hurricane that comes and goes in a few days, an earthquake emergency could last much longer with aftershocks occurring for months after the initial quake.
Steve Borgsmiller, superintendent for Sikeston schools, reported that older school buildings have seismic retrofits and new buildings will be built with the new seismic engineering, but if an earthquake hits "it's going to be a challenge for everybody involved."
Evans discussed Community Emergency Response Team training which has been funded in the county with a $4,000 Homeland Security grant.
Following a major disaster in this area such as an earthquake, "it's going to be 72 hours before professional responders can reach anyone," Evans said. "CERT training helps citizens to bridge that gap as responders become quickly overwhelmed."
The meeting wrapped up with a roundtable discussion in which officials discussed current events at their municipalities or schools.