KINGSPORT– Sullivan County will be in rare company in the country and standing tall in Tennessee in three weeks when it accepts an award that reflects a unified commitment to the safety of its residents.
On Tuesday, March 20, the county will be honored with a Safe Community designation. This selection comes from Safe Communities International, a service of the World Health Organization's Collaborating Centre on Community Safety Promotion.
The designation, the first in the state and one of only 19 in the nation, shines the spotlight on Sullivan County as an example to other communities for best practices promoting safety.
Melissa Hamilton, Holston Valley Medical Center's injury prevention outreach and disaster management coordinator, spearheaded the effort with assistance from the Kingsport Area Safety Council, which has representatives from several local organizations such as Wellmont Health System, Domtar, BAE Systems and Eastman Chemical Co.
"One of the really great things during the application process was witnessing so many people coming together," Hamilton said. "Everyone recognized how important and significant this is, and the designation shows how united Sullivan County is."
During the March 20 ceremony at Food City on Clinchfield Street, Donna Stein-Harris from the National Safety Council's Chicago chapter will issue Sullivan County's Safe Community proclamation. Mayors Dennis Phillips of Kingsport, David Shumaker of Bristol and Steve Godsey of Sullivan County will attend to sign the document.
Sullivan County earned the designation after a three-year application process that began when the Tennessee Governors Commission Council for Injury Prevention recognized local agencies for their efforts in teen driving education. As part of this recognition, the council received a grant to work with a community in the state to pursue a Safe Communities America designation.
The application process was completed in October, when site visitors from Safe Communities International visited Sullivan County. During their two-day tour, the inspectors, one from Ontario and one from Missouri, toured Sullivan County's fire, police and emergency medical departments as well as major local organizations such as Eastman and Bristol Motor Speedway.
"There is a genuine passion from everyone involved," the site inspectors' report states. "This is a testament to the collaboration that the Kingsport Area Safety Council and Sullivan County have developed over the years."
The inspectors' visit reinforced information Hamilton gathered for the application. They gauged Sullivan County for its injury prevention efforts, including efforts by local businesses to keep employees safe at work.
"Working at Holston Valley, I knew how dedicated our emergency medical services, fire department and police departments are," Hamilton said. "But it wasn't until I start doing the Safe Community application that I realized how involved our local businesses and industry are. As a nurse, it was really amazing to see all these other people who cared about safety and injury prevention."
The application also included analysis of how Sullivan County's emergency medical services work in concert with hospitals such as Holston Valley and Bristol Regional Medical Center to provide prompt medical attention to any casualties that occur in the area. According to the Safe Community application, the highest-occurring injuries in Sullivan County are motor vehicle collisions, falls and poisonings.
"The Safe Community label doesn't mean that people never get injured here," Hamilton explained. "It means we recognize there are opportunities for improvement and do something to make our county safer."
Sullivan County will submit an annual safety report each year, and its Safe Community standing must be renewed every five years. The designation can increase Sullivan County's exposure for safety grants and awards and make the area more attractive to new residents and businesses.
"I look forward to continuing this project for years to come," Hamilton said. "It makes me so proud to be part of Sullivan County and reflects the high quality of life that is available here."