Meridian Star

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March 18, 2013

Getting the job done

LEMA tackles the tough jobs

MERIDIAN —     It is rare an agency that has so few full-time personnel has so many volunteers at their disposal but David Sharp, director of the Lauderdale County Emergency Management Agency (LEMA), can call on an army if the need dictates.

    That is a good thing because LEMA tackles the jobs that no one else wants.

    From tracking severe weather events to searching cold, swift and dangerous rivers for the body of a drowning victim, the men and women of LEMA gladly show up ready for anything, anywhere.

    "It is true I have a very small staff but I can call on so many volunteers to cover just about anything we face," Sharp said. "Working closely with Allan Dover, Lauderdale County Fire Service coordinator, I can get as many of the volunteer firefighters as I need."

    Those firefighters helped immensely in the search of a drowning victim recently on the Chunky River. Sharp has also utilized their services on search and rescue operations, most notably of a small boy a couple of years ago where the volunteers braved ice cold, waist deep water to rescue the boy, saving his young life.

    "You cannot measure the dedication these people have," Sharp said. "They are invaluable to me, the people of Lauderdale County and LEMA."

    In the event of severe weather, Sharp can call in such experienced men as John Baxter who just recently retired from the National Weather Service. Closed up inside the Emergency Operations Center in the heart of Meridian, Sharp and his team of weather watchers stay up long hours tracking severe weather via an impressive battery of monitors and screens. Phones are tied into other emergency agencies and the activation button for tornado sirens to alert residents of an approaching twister is not far away.

    When other areas of the state, or even the country, need help, Sharp and his staff are ready to go in a matter of hours.

    In just the past year Sharp and his staff have deployed to assist other emergency management agencies in the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac, Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey and the recent tornado outbreak that slammed into Hattiesburg, Petal and Wayne County.

    "All of this is done at very little cost to the local taxpayer," Sharp said. "We work very hard to seek out and secure federal and state grants and other forms of funding to get the equipment we need."

    Such as more tornado sirens Sharp said the agency is trying to obtain now.

    "We try to fix issues before the become really serious," Sharp said.

    LEMA stands to protect the residents from manmade and natural disasters and to answer the call on those jobs no one else can tackle.

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