Carroll County is planning to spend more than $100,000 this year to help local gas stations prepare for emergency situations that might include extended power outages.
"This is like insurance — you buy it but hope you never have to use it," said Carroll County Commissioner Richard Rothschild, a vocal advocate about making sure the county is prepared for emergencies.
The grant funds are to be used to help service station owners install emergency backup power generation equipment, including generators, batteries, wiring and transfer switches, so fuel can be pumped during an extended outage, according to the grant application.
The county is offering grants up to $22,000 to local service stations through its Service Station Energy Resiliency Grant Program.
The grant program, which has been accepting applications since Aug. 15, is modeled after a similar program offered through the State of Maryland last year.
The Maryland Service Station Emergency Resiliency Program offered grants of up to $25,000 to stations throughout the state from August of 2013 through June 2014. Approximately $1.7 million was set aside to fund the program.
"We utilized the State of Maryland's outline when we developed our program," said Doug Brown, Carroll County's emergency management coordinator. "They did expend all funds. It was a very successful program.
"But it is my understanding that there were no applications from Carroll County," Brown said.
The county's Bureau of Emergency Management in the Office of Public Safety is putting a framework together that will help the county function, should there be an extended power outage.
One component of that is helping gas stations purchase the necessary equipment to be able to pump gas if the power goes out.
Brown said that Carroll County decided to spend its own funds to ensure that at least five strategically located service stations in the county are prepared to pump gas in an emergency.
Carroll County-based Tevis Oil owns four Jiffy Mart locations throughout Carroll County. Tim Watkins, business manager for Tevis Oil Motor Fuel, said that he did not apply for the Maryland grant program because a map on the state's website suggested his stations would not be eligible because they do not fall within emergency evacuation corridors.
Watkins said he has been in contact with Carroll County emergency management officials about the grant program and may submit an application.
To be considered for a grant, a facility must have fuel storage of at least 10,000 gallons and fuel sales of 75,000 gallons or more per year, according to the grant application.
Brown estimates there are between 50 and 60 service stations in the county and some already have equipment to help them stay open during power outages.
He added that the grant application will require service stations to document what they already have in place.
"We do know that some have a variety of different preparations in place, but we don't have details," Brown said. "As the grant application is completed, they must let us know details so we can understand how they will use the grant money."
Watkins said it would be too expensive to retrofit each of the Jiffy Mart stations with generators and circuits and switches. As an alternative, Tevis has a portable generator that they can move around to different stations, based on the need.
"We are ahead of the curve. We've already installed systems to operate portions of the stores [in an emergency], including the cash register and refrigeration units," Watkins said. "We are in the process of hooking up gas pumps to that."
Rothschild said it's important for county government to ensure citizens are safe during an extended power outage.
"We know from talking with other officials who have endured a crisis, that the availability of fuel supplies and power is one of the most critical elements of crisis recovery," Rothschild said in an email. "To the best of our knowledge, Carroll has little if any ability to pump fuel during a power failure, I believe we have work to do in order to protect our citizens."
No applications had been received for Carroll County's grant program as of earlier this week.
Brown said he's not surprised, because the application process requires some time to complete. Service station owners must submit cost estimates from licensed contractors to have the equipment installed when they submit the application.
He said to his knowledge, this is a one-time grant program and does not anticipate it being offered again in the near future.
Applications for the grant program are being accepted through Sept. 30.
Once an application is received, there is a 30-day review process.
Brown said applicants will be notified of their grant status within 45 days of submitting applications.
The grant stipulates that projects are to be completed within 90 days of signing the grant agreement.