Forward awaits snowstorm relief, examines weather response

By ERIC SLAGLE Daily News Staff Writer

Forward Township, like many communities, hopes there will be some federal relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for money spent respond­ing to last month’s snowstorms.

But as township supervisors wait for word on FEMA reim­bursement, there is also talk of improving weather response and readiness tactics.

“We have to make some arrangements for future (disaster) situations in this area,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Tom DeRosa said at a township meet­ing earlier this week. DeRosa said the township municipal building should have been the command center during the emergency because it was one of the few buildings in the township that had heat and had not lost electricity.

Downed utility lines made it next to impossible to reach local fire companies, he said. If the municipal building — which is centrally located in the township — had remained open, DeRosa said it would have been easier for residents in emergency situations to contact authorities.

Supervisor Tom Headley added the township could do better identifying people with medical conditions, such as those needing supplemental oxygen. He noted Jefferson Hills Area Ambulance Association is looking into sur­veying subscribers on future col­lection drives about their medical needs.

Bill Hess, who is the township’s emergency management coordina­tor and assistant chief of Gallatin Sunnyside fire department, said the community’s response to the emergency can be second guessed now that the immediate snow cri­sis has passed, but in general first­ responders rose to the occasion.

“I thought things went rath­er well, given the condition of things,” said Hess, who was not at the supervisors meeting. He said Gallatin Sunnyside fire hall served as the primary command center during the storm and Forward Township Volunteer



Fire Co. No. 1, along Roberts Hollow Road, was the secondary command post. Hess said he hadn’t been informed that the municipal building had electricity in the days following the snowstorms. He agreed that the municipal building would make a better command center because of its location and prox­imity to Route 51 and said the township’s emergency manage­ment plan could be modified to denote it as such.

Only three people were evacuat­ed from their homes and needed to take shelter at Gallatin Sunnyside fire hall. Hess said the township referred people in need of shelter to a warming station operated at the bingo hall in Elizabeth and later to a shelter operated by the American Red Cross at Elizabeth Forward High School.

The township hopes it will receive FEMA funding to help cover the cost of the storms that dumped nearly 30 inches of snow on the region in early February.

In its application to the county, which was subsequently forward­ed to the state for its application to the federal agency, Forward Township estimated it spent $65,000 as a result of the snow­storms.

Supervisor Dave Magiske noted, “All of those costs aren’t outlays of money.” For example, he said the FEMA reimbursement rate for use of a backhoe is $40 per hour. “So all we had to do is list how many hours we ran our backhoe and they gave us $40 for each hour... FEMA is in a sense renting it.” One big question remains, how­ever.

Will we get money from FEMA?” Magiske asked. “No one knows at this point.” The township incurred much of its snow expenses plowing roads that were the responsibility of Allegheny County or the state, according to Supervisor Tom Headley.

“If you lived on a state road, depending on which state road it was, you might have waited well over a week before you saw a state truck,” said Headley, who noted county road residents also faced long delays. Headley said town­ship leaders decided, “We’re not going to abandon those people because they have no heat, no light, no phone, no nothing. We have to do whatever it takes to get them out. It was expensive but it was the right thing to do, in my opinion.”






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