The Jefferson County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management held their annual meeting Wednesday at the Epic Buffet at Hollywood Casino. Attending the meeting were a variety of local partners with the agency including government officials, local law enforcement and health professionals.
Department Director Barbara Miller shared what the office has accomplished over the past year as well as what plans are on the horizon for 2014.
She took the time to explain what the Emergency Operations Center involves and when and how that center becomes activated. The EOC manages operations in a disaster and is not often activated, she shared. But when it becomes necessary, the center is staffed with individuals from emergency management, fire, rescue, law enforcement and others who help the community deal with any type of disaster from man made to natural.
Miller explained that her office has been the recipient of nearly $2 million in grant funds to assist in planning for disasters in the county and the region. Some of this grant money, she said, helps to pay salaries of staffers at the office as well as help in planning, disaster exercises and in dealing with actual disasters.
Planning, she said, is still key to dealing with any type of disaster. Despite difficult economic times, Miller said that individuals, businesses and government need to continue to plan for possible disasters.
"One dollar spent on this side of a disaster will save at least $3 on the other side," she said.
Miller shared with the group that in 2014, her office will continue to work on the local flood insurance program. Currently, she said, the county is at a Class 8 with regard to flood insurance which gives homeowners a 10 percent discount on their insurance. She hopes to raise that to a Class 7 this year which will increase savings up to 15 percent.
Also on the horizon are a variety of trainings and disaster exercises.
Following Miller's recap of the year, John Hough, vice president of Community Development for American Public University System, spoke with the group about APUS and what they offer to the community.
The online university was started in 1991 as the American Military University offering online educational opportunities to active military servicemen and women. In 2002, the university expanded to include civilian students and formed the American Public University.
In 2003 the university relocated to Charles Town. Hough explained that a major reason behind coming to the area revolved around accreditation for the university. The southern region, where the university was originally located in Virginia, was not willing to offer accreditation to online universities. The North Central Region, which encompasses West Virginia, was much more willing to accredit the online school.
In addition, the history and friendliness of the area were welcoming to the university as well as the location which was a reasonable commute to the original Manassas, Va. offices.
When the university gained accreditation in 2006, Hough said they experienced "hyper growth." They increased their annual student growth by 30-40 percent.
Currently APUS/AMU offers 190 degrees and certifications from philosophy to homeland security. Sixty percent of their students continue to be active military members.
The schooling is offered 100 percent online. All of the local campus that has expanded in Charles Town and Ranson since 2006 houses administration, financial aid, IT professionals and other student services.
"We offer our students all the services that a college like Marshall or Shepherd offers," Hough said.
He said there are approximately 600 employees in Charles Town and Ranson with an additional 200 in the Manassas offices. The universities employ more than 2,000 professors around the world.
APUS has invested nearly $55 million in the Jefferson County campus and has plans to expand with at least two new buildings and a parking garage within the next few years.
They offer a host of public service and health degrees and certificates in the areas of homeland security, criminal justice, fire science, forensics and much more.