With the beginning of the Texas Panhandle spring storm season just weeks away, Mike Gittingen of the National Weather Service (NWS) told the Moore County Commissioners Monday in their regular commissioners' court that Moore County was officially re-certified as "storm ready." To earn the designation of "storm ready," a community has to establish a 24-hour warning point and emergency operations center, have more than one way of monitoring weather developments and warning the public of approaching danger, have a system to monitor weather conditions locally, conduct community seminars on the topic of public readiness, and have a formal emergency plan. The community also must train of weather spotters and conduct emergency preparedness exercises.
Moore County has been participating in the NWS Storm Ready Communities program since 2005. The certification has to be renewed every three years.
Gittingen told the commissioners that 98 percent of all presidentially declared disasters are storm related. Severe storms lead to about 500 deaths per year and $15 billion in property damage.
Also on Monday, Moore County Emergency Management Coordinator Tommy Brooks updated the commissioners on the state of the coronavirus epidemic. Brooks' office would coordinate any mandatory quarantines or other actions ordered by the Texas Department of Health and Human Services (DHS). Brooks and Moore County Judge Rowdy Rhoades receive weekly updates from DHS. Brooks told the commissioners that there have been no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Moore County and that the virus has so far not been detected anywhere close to the Texas Panhandle. To date, there have been 554 cases diagnosed in the United States with 22 deaths. By far, the country most affected by the virus has been China with 80,739 cases and 3,120 deaths. The risk of death from the virus remains highest for those above 70 years old and those people with an underlying health condition, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, hypertension, or cancer. Brooks said people should continue taking the same precautions used to reduce the spread of the flu: regular hand washing, environmental cleaning and sanitizing, following cough and sneeze etiquette, and staying home from work when sick. He especially encouraged people, including all county employees, who have symptoms of respiratory illness, to stay home until they have been symptom free for 24 hours.
Brooks said he had been having discussions with local emergency first responders about how to protect themselves and other issues related to the epidemic. In addition to the discussions, the county is sanitizing the tables at the community building. Brooks recommends that when putting sanitizer on a surface it should be left to air dry so that the sanitizer has a chance to work. If people encounter shortages of sanitizer, they can make their own by combining five tablespoons of bleach per gallon of water or four teaspoons per quart.
Brooks is confident in the county's ability to handle any issues that arise with the virus. "I think the media is making it more than it is. We still need to be cautious and take care of our people, but I am more concerned about the flu than the coronavirus," he said. According to the latest update from the Centers for Disease Control, so far this season there have been approximately 34 million cases of the flu with 350,000 hospitalizations and 20,000 deaths.
In other business, Lieutenant Brandon Jones of the Moore County Sheriff's Office (SO) requested that the commissioners approve a resolution of support for a so-called JAG grant obtained from the Panhandle Regional Planning Commission that has helped pay for a second investigator in the SO. The federal funds pay for 80 percent of the cost of the position the first year; that decreases 20 percent per year over the next five years until the county is picking up the entire tab. The commissioners approved the application for the grant and the second investigator position last year. As a requirement for the grant, the commissioners must pass a resolution of support every year.
Sergeant Amber McCurley, a 10 year veteran of law enforcement who was promoted to fill the new position, told the commissioners Monday that having a second investigator in the SO has been a great benefit to county law enforcement. "I don't know how one person was able to do it," she said. Previously, Sergeant Jace Delgado was the only SO investigator. McCurley told the commissioners she has been working cases involving sexual assault, child abuse, domestic violence, drugs, theft, and other serious offenses. Among other things, she said the investigators were responsible for insuring that crime scenes and evidence collecting were handled in such a way that local prosecutors were able to obtain successful outcomes for cases. The work, she said, was very time consuming and often involved working after hours. It included accompanying sexual assault and child abuse victims to Amarillo for forensic physical examinations and interviews. Though the commissioners expressed concern about the cost of the position when the grant runs out, they were impressed by McCurley and said they thought having a second investigator was a good idea for the county. They voted to approve the resolution.
The commissioners also voted to approve the purchase of an EFORCE software license for the Emergency Operations Center that will allow emergency management officials to more easily communicate with local law enforcement. The cost for the first year is $925.00; that drops to $138.75 for the second year. Thereafter, the cost will be $138,75 plus a 3 percent annual increase per year.
The commissioners voted to acknowledge an agreement between the SO and CTC, the company that provides inmate phone services in the jail, that will allow the company to take over commissary services to jail inmates.
The commissioners voted to approve the spending of $6,443.60 to replace concrete at the Meals on Wheels building. The building is used as a polling place for elections, and the concrete in front of the entrance has deteriorated to a point where it no longer meets state and federal safety standards for polling places.
Finally, the commissioners voted to spend $5,263.22 to purchase a server from Elite Technologies to handle the new OpenGov public sector budget software to be used by the Moore County Treasurer. The treasurer's office had to change software recently when the company making the old software went out of business.