Preparing for the worst

Published 9:04 am Wednesday, May 18, 2005

By By Lee Weyhrich
The National Weather Service (NWS) is predicting that this year's hurricane season will be worse than the one that brought Hurricane Ivan to Atmore.
For that reason, President George Bush has declared this week "National Hurricane Preparedness Week."
With the NWS predicting two more named storms and one more hurricane than last year the area agencies have been working overtime to prepare for a new storm.
"It looks like we're possibly in line for another one," Escambia County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) director David Jennings said. "Activity is rampant this year, maybe more than last year."
According to Jennings, the responsibility to be prepared starts at home.
"As far as preparedness goes, preparedness has to start with the individual," Jennings said. "I think everybody now has an idea of what a storm can do when it comes through your area."
Because of the problems that occurred last year Escambia EMA better knows how to deal with an emergency situation.
"We won't be as dead in the water this time as we were last time," Jennings said. "Numerous gas stations and grocery stores have really stepped up to the plate as far as generators. I think that will go a long way as far as morale and recovery."
The county is also working hard to make sure that people in more rural areas will receive supplies if a storm strikes this year.
"We've taken some steps to improve our distribution," Jennings said. "We will still have distribution sites throughout the county. We think we will have the roads open at a much quicker pace than last year. Unfortunately with the manpower we have we will have a hard time getting out to the rural areas of the county and we are working with law enforcement and the fire departments to try to serve those people."
The reason such a big focus has been placed on supplies is that Jennings feels the EMA was not as successful last year as it could have been.
"That (getting supplies out) was a big headache for us last year," Jennings said. "We don't think we did a satisfactory job of getting resources to those people. We had it to distribute, but we didn't have adequate or sufficient ways to get it to them."
The county has also set up the long term recovery group to help meet the needs of current victims and to help distribute supplies to future victims.
"We learned several lessons from Hurricane Ivan," Jennings said. "Unfortunately we learned several of them the hard way. As far as our cities in the county, they are working on mitigation projects and hopefully these can be put into place as hurricane season approaches. Mayor Shell has been very proactive as far as preparation goes and he's very forward planning. The leadership in Atmore is very supportive and very diligent in making sure that Atmore is receiving the same thing everyone else is."
Atmore is still working on plans to mitigate the damage that could be caused by a future storm.
"Everyone needs to take a tight grip to a strong tree and hold on," Mayor Shell laughed.
In all seriousness the city government has put some plans in place in the event that another disaster comes this way.
"We're looking at getting a generator big enough to handle this entire complex," Shell said, referring to the City Hall building. "Not only will we have power, but we will be able to use the auditorium as an emergency shelter."
According to Atmore Public Safety Director Glenn Carlee, the city is still recovering from last year. Making sure the City Hall complex is operational in the event of a storm is the first step in making sure that law enforcement and emergency personnel have an established and effective base of operations.
"We had a large number of law enforcement personnel and members of the forestry service which was a great asset to us, but we also had to provide housing and food," Carlee said. "Also our guard unit is in town this year to help us. Having our guard unit here this year will be a big asset compared to what we went through last year. I think all the agencies worked well together last year – the sheriff's department, police departments and fire departments – I think everyone pitched in and did more than they had to do. Sheriff (Grover) Smith recruited a large contingency of law enforcement officers throughout the state, which was a tremendous help to us."
Carlee fears that Atmore may be due for another hurricane this year, but hopes that with the damage done last year this storm will not be as bad.
"I just got a gut feeling that we've got another one on the way," Carlee said. "We don't have the stuff to fall last year, but we don't have the shelter we had last year either."
Hurricane Ivan may have even helped the city to be more prepared in the event of a storm, Carlee said.
The city purchased equipment to deal with Hurricane Ivan that would be useful, but the storm wiped out a lot of facilities the city could use in an emergency situation as well. The combination makes the city's ability to deal with a disaster this close to the last one a mixed bag.
"We haven't recovered from (Ivan) yet," Carlee said. "Storage wise we don't have the space we had last year, but we have more equipment this year."
Atmore will continue to plan for a new storm event while still recovering from the last one.
The Poarch Creek Indian Reservation also has plans in place for another hurricane.
"We have a 72-48-24 hour plan if we know there is a storm in the gulf," Poarch Public Safety Chair April Sales said. "If we determine that there is a storm 72 hours out we have a plan we activate and there are things we do 48 hours out and 24 hours out."
The possibility of a storm hitting this area can usually be determined 72 hours before the event. For this reason Poarch has a stage one preparation.
"With a storm 72 hours out, we have a warden meeting that warden represents each of the tribal departments and we meet and discuss the possibly of it being a direct hit," Sales said. "We make sure our vehicles are gassed up and we make sure picnic tables and trashcans are put up."
At 48 hours the tribe begins to prepare for possible damage.
"At 48 hours that's when we meet specifically with our department head leaders and what we discuss at that point in time determines who is going to stay on the reservation," Sales said. "We find out if people are going to remain at home or go into a shelter. Our SAIL center makes sure our seniors have enough medication. At 48 hours we get more specific as far as the community is concerned. What we do is put documents or disks that are important to an individual department and put it into a Rubbermaid container and seal it with duct tape, this will protect it in the event we lose a roof. Then we label it with our address and contact information in case it is blown to another location. Then we clean up our offices and make sure everything is backed up so if we lose a roof we don't lose anything important. We can send information to United South and Eastern Tribes in Eastern Tennessee to be backed up. We've never used it, but we have it in place should we ever need to send our backup disks to them."
At 24 hours the tribe buckles down and makes any last-minute preparations.
"At 24 hours out we make a decision on the closing of the offices," Sales said. "We make another sweep with our individual community members as far as shelter. We basically complete our shutting down of our tribal offices. We sandbag the doors of our offices. We determine where our tribal vehicles are to be located and collect all the keys so we know where they are located. We make sure that dispatch has phone numbers of each of our employees so we can make sure how they and their family are fairing. Ronnie Jackson, the co-chair, and myself will go through and make sure that all the offices have been shut down. If we see an item is covered we make sure that after the storm that item is still covered. We know that if it is covered it was important to that department and we will go in and do whatever we can to save that item."
Poarch has had a plan in effect for eight years, but Ivan was the first time they ever had to use the plan.
"With Indian Help services and the Bureau of Indian Affairs we have worked on this plan for eight years," Sales said. "Until Hurricane Ivan we did not see how that plan planned out."
More information on hurricane preparedness can be obtained from the National Hurricane Center at

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