05/29/07 — Wayne officials ready for hurricane season

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Wayne officials ready for hurricane season

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on May 29, 2007 1:46 PM

With the June 1 start to the 2007 hurricane season fast approaching, one named storm already in the books and the experts predicting upwards of 17 more, Wayne County officials are preparing for an active summer and fall.

"Basically for us, hurricane preparedness is a year-round thing. We never stop," said county Emergency Services Director Joe Gurley. "But as the start of the season approaches, it does intensify a little bit."

Much of the department's focus so far has been on making sure that not only do all employees know their roles, but that their families are prepared as well.

"One of the most important things for our staff is developing a plan and knowing what their family is going to be doing while they're away," Gurley said.

Having that in place, he explained, can help keep his staff focused as they work to help the rest of Wayne County.

The county's assistance is broken down into four phases: preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation.

Starting at the bottom, the mitigation piece includes things like the buyouts that occurred after Hurricane Floyd in 1999 -- often the event that is looked at as a sort of benchmark experience.

One good thing that came out of it, Emergency Medical Services Manager Blair Tyndall said, is that "there's a whole lot less people in those flood plains than say 10 years ago."

From there, the rest of the department's responsibilities -- response and recovery -- are related directly to how well it's prepared.

"Response takes care of itself because the adrenaline is flowing and people are going at 110 percent," Gurley said. "The recovery is the tough part.

"Our role is to work with the utility companies to get things back to normal."

But, he added, he feels that his people and his equipment are ready.

"We've been there; we've done that; and we've got a few T-shirts for participating in hurricanes," Gurley said. "We're going to prepare the same for one or for 17. The only difference between one and 17, is it's a little more stressful for us. Of course that's not to say there won't be one even bigger than Floyd, but if there is, we'll improvise and come together."

And that's not the only agency getting ready.

"We are prepared to handle whatever Mother Nature brings," Progress Energy spokeswoman Tanya Evans said.

Every year, she explained, the company refines its emergency plans, readies equipment and makes sure all employees are prepared to not only do their regular jobs, but also their secondary storm roles.

And while they hope the power doesn't go out, they know it can be a very real possibility.

"Customers should be prepared to be out of power if a major hurricane comes through, but they should also be aware that we'll be out in the field as soon as we can," Ms. Evans said.

Those customers who do experience a power outage should call Progress Energy's storm line at 800-419-6356.

In terms of water and sewer, Goldsboro city officials said they don't feel there's much to worry about.

Karen Brashear, public utilities director, explained that after their experiences with Hurricanes Fran and Floyd -- during which there was no interruption of water services and only mild flooding at the wastewater treatment plant -- she's confident the preparations they've taken will be sufficient.

"We learned a lot. We've tested our process and we are ready," she said. "We don't expect any disruption of services."

Even in Mount Olive, where Town Manager Charles Brown said that while town officials have a few concerns with the expansion of the town's wastewater treatment plant still under way, they feel pretty good about the plans they have in place.

"We're prepared at our wastewater treatment plant. That's where we've experienced problems before and we're sort of at a critical stage down there. Our new pumps coming into the plant are not fully up and running yet, so we've brought some other ones in to help supplement that," he said.

But at the end of the day, Gurley emphasized, public utilities and county emergency services aren't the only ones who need to be prepared.

Residents throughout Wayne County also should take steps to help protect themselves during a hurricane, starting with putting together a 72-hour survival kit.

It should include a battery-operated radio, flashlight, extra batteries, at least three gallons of water per person, a miniumum three-day supply of non-perishable food, first aid kits, sanitation supplies, personal hygiene items, all prescription drugs and other necessary medical supplies, extra clothing, important family documents and entertainment. It also should include pet and baby supplies when applicable.

In addition to the kit, families also should have plans to take care of their pets, evacuation plans for those living in low-lying areas and communication plans in case they are separated.

"This is the week to start preparing yourself and your family," Gurley said, adding that more detail on what should be included in the kits can be found in brochures available at the emergency services department