Local Emergency Declaration Brings Assistance to Highland
Residents of the Highland County are no stranger to heavy snowstorms, but the blast of winter which moved in early last weekend quickly overwhelmed the available resources, even for an area generally equipped to deal with inclement weather. As the heavy snow continued to fall, roads became more treacherous, despite the dedicated efforts of the state employees working to clear them. In case of a dire emergency, this would affect the ability of first responders to reach the call location, and even then, they may face unplowed driveways or other obstacles. Realizing extra help might be needed, Highland Emergency Services Coordinator Harley Gardner declared a local emergency at 3:00 pm Saturday. Gardner’s actions were intended to bring members and equipment from the Virginia Army Guard for possible assistance, but his request was initially denied.
A statewide emergency had been declared February 16th, due to a winter storm on that day, and predicted extremely cold weather to follow, and this action had never been lifted, so Gardner assumed his request would bring in resources still on the ready from then – however, the Army Guard had apparently not been activated during the previous state of emergency, and was not active and ready at the time his declaration was made, leading to the denial. A conference call was subsequently made which included regional directors and the state emergency operations coordinator. Once the state director was made aware of the problem, he contacted the Secretary of Public Safety, who holds a cabinet position under the governor of Virginia, and the Guard was activated and sent to both Highland and Wise counties.
Members of the 116th Combat Battalion from Staunton arrived on Sunday at 11:00 am, bringing heavy equipment that was capable of accessing difficult to reach areas in case of emergency. Ultimately, their services were not needed – their mission was not to help clear roads and driveways, a point that Gardner said may be addressed shortly as the scope of these responses is reconsidered.
Gardner stressed that he has always received assistance when he has asked for it, despite the late arrival due to unforeseen circumstance during this request, and anticipates this would always be the case moving forward. Hopefully, for the sake of a winter weary population, he won’t have to find out any more this year.