Rush Township officials have stepped up their emergency preparedness in response to power outages, damaging snow storms, tornadoes, hail storms, wind bursts and other natural disasters that have hit the area over the past year.

Community members, Rush Township supervisors, Air Products, Schuylkill Emergency Management (EMA) officials and others were on hand during the unveiling of the township's Emergency Operations and Management Center, EOMC.

The center, which is located in a 10-foot by 10-foot room inside the township municipal building, will be the headquarters for the Rush Township Emergency Response Management Team.

"Prior to this center, we (local EMA volunteers) had to work out of our homes and fire company and with less means of communication," said Lorraine "Sissy" Brill, Emergency Management Agency coordinator (EMAC) for Rush Township.

The separate pod-style room contains a modern computer system with a large monitor, wall-mounted paper maps of the entire township, a messaging board, radios for emergency band use and a separate phone line for communicating with county, state and federal authorities.

During an emergency, the EOMC may be activated by Brill, Deputy EMC Paul Miller Sr. or elected officials.

"Now everything can be taken care of in one place," said Brill, who was appointed to Rush Township's EMC by the governor to act on behalf of the elected officials in an emergency.

Brill added that Marian High School, located in Rush Township, is an evacuation reception center in case of an incident at the Berwick Power Plant.

Brill expressed her and Miller's appreciation for the cooperation and team work of state and EMA officials, Rush Township supervisors, police, firefighters, fire police, Air Products and other local resources for their support with the center.

"This room means a lot," said Brill, who became the EMA coordinator in 2000, following the passing of her late husband who was her predecessor for the position.

During the unveiling, John Matz, EMA coordinator, Schuylkill County, pointed out the extreme importance of being ready during any disaster.

"The job of a local EMAC is a thankless job and requires many dedicated hours," stated Matz, who praised Brill and Miller for their dedication, as he presented Brill with updated maps of the township during the unveiling presentation.

"Lorraine has been consistent in seeking training, participating in exercises, attending meetings and providing timely information to the Schuylkill County EOC during emergency situations," Matz said. "The township is fortunate to have two dedicated individuals," like Brill and Miller.

As part of the combined organization between the township and Air Products, supervisor Steve Simchak said the township municipal building is expected to be equipped with a standby power generator in the near future.

"This will allow our police, fire and EMA to provide emergency services to the residents of Rush Township," Simchak said.

Thomas Gauntner, engineering and maintenance manager at Air Products in Hometown, said the company's partnership with the township serves both entities well.

"We were looking for a site where we could go in the event of an emergency at the plant, should we need it," Gauntner said. "At the same time, the township was considering how to improve its emergency response capabilities and were happy we could help each other."

During the program, Brill also pointed out the importance of township residents and day care centers to forward information about homebound individuals to the township EOMC.

"Sometimes, there are persons who don't want anyone to know they live alone," said Brill, "and they don't say anything. If they just gave us the information, we could go check on them if there is a power outage or a snowstorm."

Bill Schmitt, a resident of Lake Hauto, who was on hand during the program, said, "I would like to congratulate the supervisors and local partnerships for their forward-moving effort and attitude."

Supervisor Robert Leibensperger mentioned that the center can help relieve local financial and organizational burdens on local and surrounding communities.

"Any crisis is a local crisis," said George Halcovage, Schuylkill County Commissioner-elect. "Both public and private partnerships local networking are crucial during an emergency.

"The success here will continue throughout other areas of the county," he added.