Three western Iowa counties are combining forces in hopes of being better able to respond to hazardous material spills and other disasters. Harlan fire chief Roger Bissen is chairman of the new Tri-County Special Operations Unit and says the area has long needed a HAZMAT response strategy but lacked resources. Efforts were made to contract with Council Bluffs, Sioux City and Des Moines but they could never agree on key issues like price. Chief Bissen says the new agreement involves Crawford, Harrison and Shelby counties. He says they’ve created a supervisory board and they’re drafting guidelines for their mission. They’re creating by-laws and a training program, they’ve named a training officer and are printing application forms for people who would be on the response team. Bissen says the team should be able to handle most situations that develop in the three-county area, but there’s also a back-up plan. If the three can’t handle a situation, they’ll contact the state Emergency Management office in Des Moines to request help. The new Tri-County unit will be paid for with a combination of local revenue and Homeland Security funds. It should be operational by year’s end.