OEM director reactivates emergency planning committee
In the weeks of summer post-derecho, many Pocahontas County residents were disgruntled if not downright upset at the apparent lack of planning before the storm. The severe windstorm with hurricane-force winds caused downed trees, widespread power outages that went on for days, water and food shortages.
But it as it turns out, there was a plan all along. Read the plan at http://www.pocahontasemergency.org/County_Emergency_Plan.html
Emergency Management and 911 Director Shawn Dunbrack said last Tuesday night that the plan was written in 1998, and the Local Emergency Planning Committee had ceased to exist in the last few years.
Dunbrack, who was not the OEM director when the storm hit, identified the weaknesses in the system:
•lack of clear leadership
•lack of knowledge of the county disaster plan
•poor communications among responders and the public
•lack of designated shelters
The plan said to use the schools as shelters, but Dunbrack said the schools didn’t have power, either.
“We need to find a decent shelter,” he continued.
In spite of the weaknesses, Dunbrack said the county also had some strenghts:
•the volunteer base
•the ability to survive the first few days with little support
•partnerships with private businesses
Dunbrack said people really stepped up to volunteer for many functions.
“We need to maintain that,” he said. In addition, he said, private businesses like the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Snowshoe Mountain Resort, the Pretty Penny Café and Pocahontas Home Medical, as well as convenience stores that donated items, were a big help in getting the county through a difficult time.
Dunbrack said he’s requested permanent whole building generators for each school through West Virginia Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Schools in each community would be the designated shelters and would always have electricity, he said. Also, Dunbrack said, he’s upgrading the 911 system so that radio communications can be maintained, made plans to have pre-stocked supplies such as water, Meals-Ready-to-Eat and oxygen at pre-staged locations.
As for clear leadership, Dunbrack said that he wanted that to come from his office.
“I like the job; I want to see it done right,” he said. “But I do need everybody’s help to ensure the plan is right and everybody knows what it is.”
One way to do that, he said, is to reactivate the LEPC, which was originally intended for Haz-Mat situations. The committee must be made up of certain people from certain walks of life:
•an elected official, state or local
•emergency medical service
•local health department
•operator of a covered facility
“We can’t say when these things are going to be,” Dunbrack noted. “We need to start soon.”
Dunbrack said he plans to have regular meetings to evaluate the current disaster plan and then ensure all responders and all residents are aware of it.
Then, in the wake of a disaster, Dunbrack said, each agency should have a representative available either in person or via telephone for daily briefings.
One responder, Marlinton Volunteer Fire Chief Herbie Barlow, said the county should not wait on grant funds to equip shelter locations, but go ahead and make those purchases, even if other community organizations suffered.
Anyssa Core, from the WVDHSEM, said grants were available for information dissemination.
Pamela Pritt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org