National study to examine Miss. town’s emergency preparation

Published 5:15 pm Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Shelby County in Tennessee and the town of Gulfport, Miss., are two of three U.S. communities to be studied to see how quickly they can return to normal after a disaster.

The study — which also includes a yet-to-be named Southeastern city — is funded by a $4 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security and will be conducted by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Community and Regional Resilience Initiative.

“This gives us an outside set of eyes that can look into how prepared we are and help us establish milestones and baselines,” said Ted Fox, Shelby county’s public works director.

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The county was chosen because of the potential that a massive earthquake could hit it.

Commissioner Mike Ritz said he hopes the study will offer solutions to what he sees to be the county’s greatest shortfall — communication.

“Quite frankly, to me the most important thing is to ensure that everybody who needs to talk to each other can, and we don’t have that right now,” Ritz said.

If a disaster like the Minneapolis bridge collapse were to happen in Memphis, he said the substandard communication system between the county and West Memphis could pose the greatest hurdle.

For instance, Ritz said if the Mississippi River bridge falls due to an earthquake, use of cellular phones will be disrupted.

“We need to develop methods for communicating that don’t involve towers,” he said.

Fox said the study will also look at the economic impact a disaster would have on area schools and businesses.

“It will provide Memphis with an opportunity to set the pace and become a leader in resiliency that can be used as a template by other large municipalities,” he said.