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In the News: News from December 2014

EPA holds a Texas hearing on proposed smog standards

Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will hold one of three public hearings on the proposed updates to national air quality standards for ground-level ozone, or smog, in Arlington, Texas.

The EPA proposed to strengthen the standards to a level within a range of 65 to 70 parts per billion (ppb) to better protect Americans’ health and the environment, while taking comment on a level down to 60 ppb, stated the EPA. The agency estimates the benefits of meeting the proposed standards will outweigh the costs by preventing asthma attacks, heart attacks, missed school days, premature deaths, and other health effects.

A Texas public hearing about the standards will be conducted from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Jan. 29 at Arlington City Hall, 101 W. Abram St. in Arlington.

The public may register to speak at a specific time during a hearing by contacting Eloise Shepherd at 919-541-5507 or People also may register in person the day of the hearing. The EPA will accept written comments on the proposed standards until March 17, 2015. The agency will issue a final rule by Oct. 1, 2015.

> Find additional information on the proposal and instructions for submitting written comments.

Two other hearings will take place at the following local times and locations:

9 a.m.-7:30 p.m., Jan. 29
William Jefferson Clinton East building, Room 1153
1301 Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20460

9 a.m.-7:30 p.m., Feb. 2
Sacramento, Calif.
California Air Resources Board
Byron Sher Auditorium
1001 “I” St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

> Read more about CAPCOG’S Air Quality Program.
> Discover the Clean Air Coalition.

Mass fatality plan to benefit response and training

Friday, December 26, 2014

Educating area governments and emergency response teams on how to respond to mass fatality incidents has been priority for the Capital Area Council of Governments Homeland Security Division for years. Entities in the region have participated in a number of training sessions, hosted national recognized trainers on the subject, and focused several planning initiatives on the topic.

In the summer of 2014, CAPCOG received a grant to develop a mass fatality plan so it could provide local jurisdictions with assistance in improving the responses to such incidents throughout its 10-county region. The plan is still under development, but CAPCOG Homeland Security Director Ed Schaefer and Homeland Security Planner Carolyn Sudduth answered questions about why creating a mass fatality plan is important.

What constitutes a mass fatality incident?
Simply stated, a mass fatality incident is any incident resulting in more fatalities than can be managed by a local jurisdiction using its own available resources. Because the level of available resources varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, an incident that would be a “mass fatality incident” in one jurisdiction might not reach that threshold in another.

Mass fatality incidents can result from natural causes, such as tornadoes or pandemic influenza; or have man-made origins, such as the crash of an airliner or an explosion of hazardous chemicals. Mass fatality incidents are sometimes referred to as “mass casualty incidents” but, for planning purposes, mass casualty incidents focus on the need to manage surviving victims while mass fatality incidents focus on the need to manage victims who did not survive. Sometimes, an incident can be both a mass casualty incident and a mass fatality incident.

These types of incidents require multiple agencies and communities coordinate with each other.

Why do governments need to have a mass fatality response plan? And how can the plans help them prepare for a mass fatality incident?
State and federal law require governments at all levels be prepared to respond to emergencies of all types and all degrees of severity, including those that reach the level of a mass fatality incident. Such incidents can occur with little or no warning, as shown by the May 27, 1997 tornado that killed 27 people in Jarrell in Williamson County.

When such incidents have occurred, local officials have used the principles and processes in their jurisdictions’ emergency management plans to guide their response. Development of a mass fatality response plan prior to such an occurrence allows them to focus on the unique issues associated with mass fatality incidents before, not during, the response to such an incident.

Pre-planning provides the opportunity to identify and arrange for needed resources, develop processes and procedures, and train government and private-sector personnel in their roles and responsibilities when such an incident occurs.

What are some of the downfalls of incorrectly handling mass fatality incidents?
A response to a mass fatality incident has several components, including recovery of bodies, processing and final disposition of the remains, and assistance to the families of the deceased. These activities take place in an emotionally charged, highly visible environment that elevates the consequences of failure to follow the requirements of the law or to be sensitive to the needs of the survivors. Any missteps can subject local officials to legal action, negative publicity or both. Every component needs to be handled with a degree of precision, sensitivity and dignity.

How does a mass fatality response plan relate to other homeland security plans and how can it be integrated into those plans?
All jurisdictions are required to develop comprehensive, all-hazard emergency management plans. Such plans outline how local jurisdictions will work with other organizations, including non-governmental organizations and state and federal agencies to provide an effective, coordinated response. Mass fatality response planning is integrated into a broad array of emergency management, law enforcement and public health planning processes. This planning provides the basis for the training and exercise that facilitate such a response.

How will jurisdictions be able to use the developed plan after it is finished? And how can further help those jurisdictions prepare?
CAPCOG is taking a two-pronged approach to mass fatality response planning. The most visible product of this effort will be written plans, guidelines and templates that can be modified by local jurisdictions to meet their particular needs. More important, however, is the opportunity to engage in a process of identifying the issues that will be encountered in a response to a mass fatality incident and to work with other personnel to formulate approaches to dealing with those issues. Our approach focuses on incorporating the unique considerations of mass fatality response into the jurisdiction’s incident command structure, including ensuring that medico-legal authorities continue their statutory oversight of fatality incidents, and incorporating the application of “best practices” to the mass fatality response.

> Discover more about CAPCOG's Homeland Security Divison.

Travis County Judge receives CAPCOG regionalism award

Friday, December 19, 2014

Travis County Judge Samuel T. Biscoe received the Jack Griesenbeck Award from the Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG) honoring his longtime dedication to regionalism and service to CAPCOG’s 10-county district.

Named after Bastrop County Judge Jack Griesenbeck, who was CAPCOG’s first chairman, the award recognizes a person who consistently advocates a regional and multijurisdictional approach through their work with local governments, nonprofits and other organization.

Biscoe has done that by serving numerous years on the CAPCOG Executive Committee and serving as the Central Texas Clean Air Coalition’s chairman for the last five years. Biscoe has led the coalition and its other elected officials by consistently addressing issues through a regional lens which is necessary for air quality. With Biscoe’s leadership, the cities and counties have worked hard together taking fairly vigorous actions to keep the region out of the Environmental Protection Agency’s nonattainment air quality status.

Biscoe has been a part of the CAPCOG Executive Committee since he was first elected as a Travis County Commissioner in 1989. He served as the CAPCOG Executive Committee chairman and became the Clean Air Coalition chairman in 2009.

Through his work with both CAPCOG committees, Biscoe has more than proved a commitment to regionalism.

CAPCOG has honored individuals with this award for more than 10 years.

CAPCOG Executive Director Betty Voights presents Travis County Judge Samuel T. Biscoe with CAPCOG's Jack Griesenbeck Award. 

> Read about the previous Jack Griesenbeck Award winner.
> Find out more about the CAPCOG Executive Committee.
> Discover the Central Texas Clean Air Coalition.

Hays County Commissioner honored for service to transportation

Friday, December 19, 2014

Hays County Commissioner, Will Conley, received the Texas Department of Transportation Road Hand award, a prestigious tradition acknowledging those who have made improvements to transportation in their communities.

Commissioner Conley has been a major player in planning viable transportation projects in the region. He has made a difference by serving as chairman on the Capitol Area Regional Transportation Planning Organization and the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, as well as through his work in Hays County to make safety improvements to roadways and establish transportation plans to prevent future traffic congestion.

“Commissioner Conley, along with other leaders in Hays County, faces the challenge of planning transportation in one of the fastest growing counties in the state,” said Greg Malatek, Austin District Engineer. “He has devoted time and effort to improving TxDOT and the way the agency does business. His enthusiasm, leadership, and dedicated public service are invaluable and appreciated.”

The Road Hand Award was created in 1973 by former State Highway Engineer Luther DeBerry. He recognized that TxDOT owes a great deal to its many friends and supporters for their efforts to make the Texas highway program the best in the world. The award is the highest tribute to citizens who freely give their time, energy, and vision to champion transportation projects in Texas.

“It was a surprise and honor to receive the State's highest recognition for a local official in transportation,” Conley said. “Thank you to the citizens of Precinct 3, Hays County Commissioner's Court, and my colleagues across the region for giving me the opportunity to work on this important issue for our community and State.”

> Discover more on the Capital Area Regional Transportation Planning Organization.

Law enforcement academy teaches a lifelong career

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Thanks to funding from the Office of the Governor’s Criminal Justice Division, the Capital Area Council of Governments Regional Law Enforcement Academy operates one of the area’s most affordable education opportunities for people looking for a lifelong career in law enforcement.

Last year, CAPCOG conducted five basic peace officers courses (BPOCs) graduating 92 cadets which joined law enforcement agencies around the region. Those same agencies and ones outside the region often recruit the BPOC’s cadets during the course. Two courses are underway and a third will start in January.

> Find a schedule of future BPOCs and additional training opportunities.

For $2,300, prospective officers can enroll in a BPOC. Law enforcement agencies in the region can sponsor cadets for a discounted rate of $1,900. Military veterans also can qualify for Chapter 30, Montgomery GI Bill benefits, and Chapter 33, Post 911 GI Bill benefits. Veterans who plan to use the Post-9/11 or Montgomery GI Bill must submit a certificate of eligibility from the VA, Muskogee, Okla. Office, stating the percent of tuition that will be paid. If it is less than 100 percent, the student will pay the remainder.

> Read more about CAPCOG's Regional Law Enforcement Academy.

GeoMap program improves orthoimagery resolution

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Capital Area Council of Governments GIS Program’s GeoMap, a cooperative buying program, is coordinating the purchase of orthoimagery with 12 participating local entities that include counties, municipalities and the Capital Area Emergency Communications District in 2015.

For the first time ever, the entire 10-county region — more than 8,800 square miles — will be captured in 12-inch or 6-inch resolution. CAPCOG GIS is working to make the data available by county mosaics and ultimately the entire region in one file.

The GIS program provides mapping, GIS consulting, spatial analysis to CAPCOG divisions, member governments and the public. Its most prominent service is maintaining and publishing digital maps for 9-1-1 telecommunicators and dispatchers. In FY 2015, CAPCOG GIS is continuing the  implementation of new data layers for Next Generation 9-1-1 geospatial data, database maintenance, regional support and training.

> Contact Jonathan Pattiwael, CAPCOG GIS analyst II.
> Read more about CAPCOG's GIS program.

CAPCOG honors Parmer with volunteer award

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Capital Area Council of Governments recognized Phill Parmer, of Llano, with its first volunteer service award on Dec. 10. Parmer, 94, is the longest serving Area Agency on Aging of the Capital Area volunteer.

He has dedicated more than 19 years to assisting with the care of older adults throughout CAPCOG’s 10-county region. Since 1995, Parmer has participated as a CAPCOG Aging Advisory Committee member. He served as a past committee chair and held every position on the board. He has conducted numerous focus groups in Llano County to help identify and strategize to meet those needs of seniors in the capital region.

Palmer has dedicated an enormous amount of time on the aging evaluation committee by visiting senior centers and nutrition meal sites to conduct contract on-site monitoring each year. Annually, he also assisted scoring applications from outside entities to provide home delivered and congregate meal programs.

In 1996, Parmer became a Certified Ombudsman. As a volunteer ombudsman, he has visited and advocated for seniors and their families monthly and weekly by visiting nursing homes and assisted-living centers in Llano and surrounding cities. He continues to be an active ombudsman but resigned from the Aging Advisory Committee earlier this year because of health reasons.

Parmer also was elected to the Texas Silver Haired Legislature from 1992-1996, where he advocated and spearheaded legislative initiatives related to senior issues.

Phill Parmer, 94 of Llano, accepts the CAPCOG Volunteer Service Award from Llano County Judge and CAPCOG Executive Committee Chairman Wayne Brascom during CAPCOG's Dec. 10 General Assembly Meeting.

> Read more about the Area Agency on Aging.
> Discover the Area Agency on Aging ombudsman program.

Llano transportation & economic development plan begins

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Llano County Commissioners’ Court hosted CAPCOG on Nov. 24 to announce support for a 2015 countywide transportation and economic development plan.

The effort, funded by the Texas Department of Transportation, will pick up steam in early 2015 as the county nominates advisory committees from public and private sectors. TxDOT and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute started researching traffic patterns and future trends. CAPCOG will combine their research with economic and demographic info to create a data-driven plan for the future county growth.

Counties outside Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s jurisdiction can use comprehensive prioritization of transportation projects to get the most from out-of-state and federal funding sources and to preserve right-of-way corridors.

The upcoming planning process will include surveys, stakeholder work sessions, and several public meetings to ensure the plan represents Llano County residents.

> Contact Chad Coburn, CAPCOG manager of community development and planning, for more information.
> Read more about CAPCOG's Community and Economic Development Program.

CAPCOG offers basic telecommunicators course

Monday, December 08, 2014

The Capital Area Council of Governments offered its first 40 Hour Basic Telecommunicator Licensing Course from Nov. 10 to Nov. 14, 2014 helping 19 9-1-1 operators meet a new state requirement. Additional courses will be available throughout the 2015 fiscal year.

The Basic Telecommunicator Licensing Course is now a required course by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) that emergency telecommunicators must complete within their first year of hire.

The 40 hour course is designed to provide a beginning telecommunicator with an understanding of situations encountered in an emergency communications environment. Course content includes training such as radio dispatching, call taking, call classification, emergency and non-emergency situations, liability and legal issues and stress management.

The 19 students in attendance were from Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) throughout the CAPCOG region and other outside agencies. They all passed the final exam with a required score of 85 or higher. The course is offered to CAPCOG’s regional PSAPs at no charge.

> Find future training courses.
> Learn more about the CAPCOG Emergency Communications Division.
> Contact Kelsey Dean, CAPCOG PSAP specialist.

TCEQ extends emission reduction grant opportunity

Friday, December 05, 2014

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) extended the grant application process for its Emissions Reduction Incentive Grant Program.

Applications now will be accepted until 5 p.m., Dec. 16, 2014.

> Apply for the grant on the Texas Emission Reduction Plan website.

The grant encourages entities to upgrade or replace heavy-duty on-road vehicles or non-road equipment, equipment, locomotives, marine vessels, stationary equipment, refueling infrastructure, on-site electrification and idle reduction infrastructure, on-vehicle electrification and idle reduction infrastructure, and rail relocation and improvement projects in Texas.

Entities that operate or plan to operate such vehicles and equipment in the nonattainment areas and other areas of Texas, to include the Austin area, are eligible for the grant.

> Discover more air quality grant opportunities.
> Read about the Capital Area Council of Governments’ Air Quality Program.

Proposed Ozone Standards Pose a Challenge for Central Texas

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Proposed new national ground-level ozone standards put Central Texas at risk of being designated a “nonattainment” area by 2017. However, ongoing regional air quality planning efforts could make the difference in preserving the region’s attainment status. On Nov. 26, 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed tightening the “primary” ozone standard from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to between 65-70 ppb to protect public health and welfare. Ozone levels in Central Texas are currently within the range proposed by EPA for the standards.

While ozone levels in the Austin-Round Rock Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) — Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays, Travis and Williamson counties — continue to improve, progress may not occur quickly enough to remain in compliance under the proposed standards. If EPA sets the new primary ozone standard at the lowest end of its proposed range –65 ppb – current projections indicate that continuing and strengthening the region’s emission reduction program will be necessary to stay in attainment.

If EPA designates Central Texas “nonattainment” for ground-level ozone, which might occur by October 2017, there could be significant economic impacts for the region. New regulations could restrict industrial expansion, delay funding for roadway construction, and increase the cost of doing business throughout the region. The regulatory consequences of a nonattainment designation could last for 25-40 years.

Ongoing regional air quality planning efforts are led by the Central Texas Clean Air Coalition (CAC), which consists of local elected officials from all five counties in the Austin-Round Rock MSA. They have developed a series of voluntary emission reduction plans that have helped the region remain in attainment of EPA’s air quality standards following the last two revisions to the ground-level ozone standards.

These nationally-recognized efforts are supported by local businesses, government entities, and nonprofit organizations, as well as state programs designed to reduce local emissions. Regarding the challenge the region may face addressing the proposed standards, CAC Chair and outgoing Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe said, “Central Texans should be very proud of the efforts our region has successfully pursued, and will continue to pursue, in order to stay in attainment of national ozone standards. Continued collaboration will help ensure the best possible protection for public health and protection against costs arising from a possible nonattainment designation.” The region’s planning efforts earned the CAC the EPA’s Clean Air Excellence Award for Community Engagement in 2014.

High ozone levels can cause breathing problems, particularly for children, seniors, and people who suffer from chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma. High ozone can also cause damage to plants and reduce growth rates for vegetation. Many countries have set ozone standards similar to what EPA has proposed, although implementation methods vary. For comparison, Canada has set its ozone standard at 65 ppb; the European Union ozone standard is 60 ppb; the United Kingdom has an ozone standard of 50 ppb.

> Discover more about the region's air quality.
Download CAPCOG's - EPA Ozone Standard Fact Sheet.

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