By Ryan Costello, Kathi Cozzone, & Terence Farrell, Chester County Commissioners
Chester County’s winter weather certainly qualified as an extreme emergency this year. Residents endured multiple huge snow storms and devastating ice storms that made county roads dangerous. Schools and businesses were closed and many county residents had to spend days without electricity.
One of the main duties of county government is to provide services, in some cases life-saving services, to its citizens. Those in Chester County government certainly fulfilled their duties these past several weeks and we are commending them for their dedication.
The county’s Department of Emergency Services responded with staffing around-the-clock for our Emergency Operations Center. The operation of a 9-1-1 system is always crucial, but even more so during severe storms. Information is also vital during storm emergencies and the EOC was a crucial link to state officials, all municipalities and key stakeholders. Chester County citizens also need accurate information and the EOC maintained a regular stream of information to the county’s residents through the media and social media. Members of the Department of Computing and Information Services made sure those avenues of communication were operable day and night.
Addressing issues that may affect the health of county residents during emergencies falls to our staff in the Health Department. A representative of the Health Department takes the lead on public health functions within the Emergency Operations Center, ensuring long term care facilities, hospitals and retirement centers continue to maintain their operations. They also organize volunteers from the County’s Medical Reserve Corps to provide direct medical assistance in emergency shelters. The Health Department also communicated health-related advice to citizens throughout the storm, working with the Department of Emergency Services via social media. And our environmental division of the Health Department inspected the emergency shelters to maintain good health practices, and helped restaurants come back to code as electricity services resumed.
Ensuring that the needs of our vulnerable citizens are met during times of extreme weather conditions is essential. Our Human Services staff worked to make sure the elderly, those suffering from mental health issues and intellectual disabilities were not in danger. All members of our Human Services staff were on-call for any emergencies, throughout the storm, and in one instance, were even commended for saving the life of an elderly citizen.
The task of keeping clear essential County government parking areas, and maintaining the county’s parks and trails, fell to the employees of Chester County Facilities and Parks. They did a lot of behind the scenes work for county offices, including the EOC, Pocopson Home, the Youth Center and Prison, ensuring back-up generator power was always available.
Essential staffing was maintained throughout the storms at Chester County’s Pocopson Home, the Youth Center and the Prison. Homeless shelters also needed to be running (often with extended hours during extreme winter weather) and staff from the Department of Community Development ensured those shelters were operational, and coordinated the County’s Connectpoints service for those who needed emergency housing or sheltered accommodation.
Of course, many crucial services are provided to Chester County citizens every day of the year. But the value of these services is intensified – and the people who provide them are greatly appreciated – when we experience an emergency. Many of our Chester County employees are also first responders and volunteers in their own communities, and we commend them for their dedication, their professionalism and their compassion.
Chester County is a wonderful place to work and live during all four seasons of the year. We don’t know about you, but we’re ready to move on to the next season now!