City, County officials say be prepared

Published 11:21 pm Saturday, August 18, 2007

On the anniversary of Hurricane Camille’s landfall Picayune city officials met to share their plans for this and following hurricane seasons with the public.
Friday Mayor Greg Mitchell, City Manager Ed Pinero Jr., Fire Chief Keith Brown and other city employees met with the Picayune Item to share emergency response procedures that are in place and those planned for the near future. With Hurricane Katrina almost two years in the past, Gulf Coast residents should be prepared for each storm season.
“We thought (Hurricane) Camille was a benchmark, of course we know that’s out the window,” Mitchell said.
This weekend Hurricane Dean is heading for the Gulf of Mexico, where the storm is expected to head west or possibly north west. A storm in the Gulf reminds Pearl River County residents of what they went though nearly two years ago.
Inconveniences such as lack of gasoline, supplies and communications could still linger in residents minds who rode out that storm.
A meeting with city department heads drew up a plan of action for this hurricane season. Various needs have been addressed, such as fuel, sandbags, shelters, generators and communications.
Sandbags will begin to be filled about 72 hours from a storm’s projected landfall. A number of fuel stations have indicated they will be open to the public as soon as possible after a damaging storm, and the city has indicated they will provide the necessary communication to back it all up, Brown said.
Shelter locations will be publicized through the Picayune Item and WRJW 48 hours before a storm is projected to make landfall, Brown said. Announcing those locations two days prior will ensure county residents will get shelter space first. A team effort by the Department of Human Services and the American Red Cross will man those shelters and are expected at the shelters before the storm hits, he said. Generators to power those shelters with fans and lights are already stationed in the county, ready for deployment.
City hall will be powered with its own generator, which is already installed and slated for testing Monday morning, Brown said. Other public buildings in Picayune, including the fire stations, should have generators installed by next year.
Communications are set to be covered with various technologies. The most widely used form of communication by emergency personnel, high band radio, met with problems during Katrina as antennas were blown down, Brown said. Cell phones and Nextel push to talk phones attempted to keep communications up, but were spotty without power to cell towers. Brown said two new forms of communication have been added to the fold to keep city officials and the public informed. Those will be the recently added forms of satellite communications and implementation of a long established reliable medium, amateur radio.
“We need to be able to communicate to get our job done,” Brown said.
Mitchell said after Katrina about 75 percent of the communications between Picayune and Poplarville were handled via travel.
Distribution of supplies caused traffic problems at Claiborne Hill after Katrina. To remedy that problem they have devised a plan to use Friendship Park as a staging area. There Meals Ready to Eat, ice and other available supplies will be distributed in an orderly fashion. Motorists are expected to enter the park from Memorial Boulevard and exit via U.S. 11, Brown said.
To ensure the best possible handling of problems after an emergency situation has presented itself, a chain of command has been established. Brown said that chain of command will ensure that all problems are not handled by one man, they will be properly dispersed up the command line.
Even though Hurricane Dean is expected to miss the Mississippi coast due to an existing high pressure system in the area, city officials are planning for the worst case scenario. If a storm looks as though it will head to the Mississippi coast, the city’s Emergency Operations Center will open 72 hours prior. Meetings will be held by city and county officials and will increase in frequency as the storm approaches.
Before Katrina hit Pearl River County the City of Picayune had employees with the foresight to purchase gas from the former BP station. This season storage tanks have been secured by the city and Brown said as soon as he gets the declaration he will order fuel to fill them. To supply the general public with fuel several fuel suppliers in the city have agreed to open their stores as soon as possible after a storm. Security for those stations will be provided by the city. A list of those stations planning to open will be released when needed, Brown said.
Operations Assistant for the City of Picayune Diane Miller inquired about those stations securing generators so the pumps will have power to distribute the fuel. Brown said he hopes those retailers have taken the responsibility to secure their own generators.
Providing sufficient fuel to the general public will provide them the opportunity to get where they need to be for safety. In order to do that some stations in the county along Interstate 59 have indicated they will be open. Those include the Nicholson exit station, two or three stations at Picayune exits, the Carriere exit station, and about two stations in Poplarville.
Picayune Fire Department Training Officer Barry Lee said he expects there to be a public rush to purchase fuel if a storm is approaching. He asks residents to be careful when storing excess amounts of fuel. He suggests using only approved containers and storing them in ventilated areas away from homes. Residents should keep in mind that storing large amounts of fuel presents a safety hazard for emergency personnel in the event of a fire, especially if the fire occurs where the fuel is stored. Notifying responding emergency personnel about the location of stored fuel is essential to responder safety.

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