EMA, Red Cross prep for disaster
By By Janet Little Cooper
The West Escambia Chapter of the American Red Cross held a meeting at David's Catfish House Wednesday to discuss plans for hurricane season
"We have got to be prepared in this town to open a shelter," Red Cross director Charlotte Boyle said. "If the predictions are correct we are going to have more hurricanes hit this area and we need to be ready and need volunteers."
Newly appointed Escambia County Emergency management director David Adams was on hand to talk to the volunteers about those plans and the counties relationship with the Red Cross.
"The days of volunteerism are just about over," Adams said. "It is so hard for people to find time to volunteer now. Organizations such as the Red Cross depend on volunteers and we are going to need them in the event of another hurricane. I have been on the job for two and a half weeks now and I am still gathering a lot of information. I have several more meetings before plans can be finalized for available shelters. We do have four locations in the county for shelters now."
Adams is currently working with the School Board, Red Cross and other agencies to prepare a program that would move people out of the city if need be in the event of a catastrophic storm.
The county only opens shelters for Category 1 and two hurricanes. If the shelter has been opened prior to a storm becoming a Category 3 or above, the shelter would remain open according to Adams.
"Hopefully, before we get tested we will have a good plan in place," Adams said.
He also said that the county commission is planning for a shelter of last resort that would require participants to sign a release form relinquishing the county from any liabilities.
"We currently have under 600 beds in four shelters for the entire population of Escambia County," Adams said. "We are awaiting approval from the governor's office regarding use of Jeff Davis in Brewton as a shelter. The Atmore campus is used as a staging area for all the power and rescue crews."
Escambia County High School is the only shelter available in Atmore at present. It has a capacity of 200 evacuees.
"The Atmore shelter is a 24/7 volunteer effort, " Boyle said. "We can only use the hallways so no more than 200 can fit. We manned that shelter last year with five Red Cross people manning the registration table and taking care of the people. That number does not include the food service. Another group took care of all of the food."
Greenville High School and Clarke County have been named, as the only special needs shelters at this time.
"We normally have a smaller number of special needs shelters because it takes a tremendous amount of resources to open," Adams said.
Adams said that some churches within communities would be opening as shelters for their congregation and community as well.
People who volunteer for the Red Cross shelters will be required to undergo training before than can be placed.
"You will have to have training before you can help in a Red Cross shelter," Boyle said. " The Red Cross will provide that training for those who sign up. We need to know what capacity you can work in and times available. We are in desperate need of volunteers when we open a shelter."
Adams told the group that the county still had a lot of work and planning to do, but that he had been assured from the state level that resources would be available.
Atmore Fire and Rescue Department Chief Gerry McGhee said that he and Adams would be in close contact in the event of a storm. Adams will operate out of emergency operations that will be located in the Brewton Court house. Atmore has its own emergency operation in city hall.
"Atmore is in pretty good shape at this point," McGhee said. "We really learned a lot from the storms we have been in. We still have more work to go, but we are better prepared now than we were before."
Adams closed the meeting by saying that Atmore is better prepared than any small city can be.
"You should be proud of your city," Adams said.