County officials participate in storm test

Published 6:59 pm Thursday, May 10, 2007

Tuesday a simulated category three hurricane was on path to the Gulf Coast expected to bring a 15 foot storm surge with additional wave action and rainfall measuring about 10 inches.

While this was a hypothetical situation used to ready South Mississippi areas for the upcoming storm season, this scenario could occur sometime within the next couple of months with hurricane season looming. It also prompted county officials to test and evaluate their response abilities.

As part of an effort from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency to prepare for the season, emergency response agencies in each of the surrounding counties tested their response time and how each agency would react to an incoming storm. A collection of those agencies met in Poplarville at the Emergency Operations Center to go through the run down of the mock storm, named Hurricane Zora. The whole operation occurred behind the scenes with no movement of major equipment.

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This exercise focused on problems each county had during Hurricane Katrina and worked to address them. Unexpected issues found during the scenario will also be addressed with a critique later on dealing with what did and did not go right, Carriere Fire Chief Tom Wagner said.

“This is the first real exercise we’ve had since Katrina,” Wagner said.

Communications was a major issue during Hurricane Katrina and this exercise was focused on the use of the Internet to keep communications up. In the instance the Internet is not available due to power outage or other unforeseen problems, Pearl River County has a back up plan, amateur radio. While Internet may rely on the area to have electricity, amateur radio can operate of off a 12 volt battery if need be, Wagner said.

“You’re not dependent on electricity, that’s the beauty of amateur radio,” said Emergency Management Communications Director David Moore.

The EOC has generators if electricity is lost and there are six trailer mounted generators on the way for shelters in the county. They should soon be delivered to the county EOC. One-hundred percent of the generator cost will be covered by a Homeland Security Grant, Moore said. Those generators will be capable of providing a large amount of electricity to those shelters and could also be moved to other sites to provide temporary electricity to more than one area.

The diverse applications of amateur radio will lead to their installation at the two primary shelters, the First Baptist Church of Picayune and the First Baptist Church of Poplarville. Those radios will be purchased by the respective pastors and will become a permanent addition to the church in times of need, Moore said.

“So if (shelters) have power and communications, they’re not in that bad of shape,” Moore said.

American Red Cross Director of Disaster Services Bob Beebe said the Red Cross’ function is to make sure people have shelter and food in emergency situations. While that is the primary objective of the Red Cross they do ask residents to bring at least five days worth of food, water and other supplies, said Red Cross Community Recovery Specialist Ernie Brown-Rampola.

An additional part of the preparedness scope Pearl River County has is a mobile emergency response unit capable of multiple avenues of communication. The mobile emergency response center is equipped with satellite communications that will provide phone and Internet, communication radios from Hancock and Harrison counties and a weather station, Moore said.

Emergency Operations Director Bobby Strahan said the mobile emergency response center was paid for in part by Dupont, Barry Harper Dodge, the county and the Sheriff’s Department.

The satellite communication systems planned for the Picayune’s fire station one and for the EOC office have been pushed back until June, said Fire Chief Keith Brown.

“We will have a satellite system before July,” Brown said.

Problems arose with the rising cost of the equipment so new bids are being sought, Brown said. Strahan said he also hopes to have the system up and going by the first of the hurricane season.

Contra flow concerns from the Louisiana area will also be addressed concerning when to start it and Pearl River County notification of its beginning, Strahan said. This notification will help keep crucial vehicles, such as school buses, off the interstates.