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Verizon grant will help HCCAN mobilize disaster response
Faith Huffman | News-Telegram News Editor

Verizon External Affairs Director Cesar Moncada (second from right) presents a $3,200 grant from Verizon to support the Hopkins County Emergency Response Plan. Accepting the grant are 211 and CAN Help Assistant Director Echo Gregory (middle) and 211 and CAN Help Executive Director Dawn Sheffield (second from left). Also pictured are Sulphur Springs Assistant Police Chief Robert Stidham (left) and SSPD Lt. Rex Morgan, city emergency management coordinator (right).
Staff Photo By Angela Pitts

July 20, 2006 -- Hopkins County Community Action Network, designed to offer health and human resource services referrals, got a helping hand this week that will a quick and massive mobilization of volunteers should disaster strike in the region.

The nonprofit organization was awarded a $3,200 Verizon Foundation Grant for equipment to improve its 211 Texas system, the call center utilized by hurricane victims during and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

HCCAN applied to Verizon Foundation for the grant so that it can improve its phone response system, also utilized as part of the city's emergency management response plan for the county and surrounding areas, according to HCCAN  Assistant Director and 211 Texas-Northeast Texas Region Assistant Director Echo Gregory.

211-Texas is a statewide call referral and information service for health and human resources, as well as Northeast Texas region homeland security, which conducts stockpile drill such as the simulated small pox epidemic drill in September 2003 and the simulated plague epidemic drill of August 2005.

One of the things that officials discovered in conducting the drill was the need for a system to contact a large volume of volunteers and agencies within a short span of time to activate emergency response teams.

The grant will allow HCCAN to purchase phone response equipment, called Phone Tree, which will enable officials to enter a large list of volunteers trained is disaster response -- such as the 472 who participated in the stockpile drills -- into a data bank. In the event of a real emergency, officials can record a message with the pertinent information needed for the volunteers to respond, then activate the system. The phone tree can make up to 60 calls an hour, continuously calling and playing the automated message, to quickly activate the team 

Before, emergency officials spent two days making those calls. The new system is designed to "really speed things." Two days could be too late, especially in an emergency situation such as a rapidly spreading epidemic. This will allow volunteers to get in place and begin administering necessary medication and vaccinations to the 60,000 people which fall within the emergency management response plan for Hopkins County and surrounding areas.

The system could also be utilized by Sulphur Springs Police Lt. Rex Morgan, the city's emergency management coordinator, to rapidly contact and activate the 20 or so volunteer weather spotters during bad weather. It could also be used to provide information as to what options and emergency assistance is available to domestic violence victims 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, as well as other educational information and assistance programs in the area.

In 2005, Verizon Foundation awarded more than $74 million in grants to charitable and nonprofit agencies in the United States and abroad. The Foundation also supports Verizon Volunteers, an employee volunteer program in which Verizon employees donate their time and efforts to community service projects, with the company kicking a $750 donation to the organization being helped with 50 hours of more of employee volunteer service. Since 2000, Verizon volunteers have racked up 2 million hours of community service and $35.6 million in combined contributions to nonprofit in 2004.

In the past, both Sulphur Springs Independent School District and Sulphur Springs Public Library have benefited from Verizon Foundation grants. In 2005, Early Childhood Learning Center was awarded $20,000 for additional Waterford Early Learning Software to enhance math and science skills to supplement the Waterford reading software which was already being used by the district. Two years prior to that, SSISD was awarded $25,000 to help expand its integrated family literacy opportunities for parents of school-age children who did not qualify for services because the children were over the age of 7. In 2003, the Sulphur Springs Friends of the Library was awarded $7,000 for bilingual reading material for youths and adults enrolled in English as a Second Language courses at the public library.

In addition to Gregory and Morgan, SSPD Assistant Chief Robert Stidham, 211 Texas-Northeast Texas Region Executive Director and HCCAN-Can Help Executive Director Dawn Sheffield and Cesar Moncada, Verizon's regional director of external affairs were on hand for the $3,200 check presentation Tuesday afternoon at the Can Help building, 525 Church St.

For more information about 211 Texas, HCCAN or how the grant will be utilized, contact Sheffield or Gregory at 903-885-9797.

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