Emergency drill in Poplarville

Published 4:55 pm Friday, May 2, 2008

County emergency officials participated in a statewide emergency communications drill at the Emergency Operations Center on Thursday.

Pearl River County Emergency Management Director Danny Manley said the drill is to test statewide emergency communications utilizing a prepared hurricane scenario. The scenario involves category 5 Hurricane Ulysses, that has made a direct hit on Miami, Fla., and come through the Gulf of Mexico to hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Manley said one of the reasons the scenario specifies a direct hit on Miami is because the state received so much assistance from Florida during Hurricane Katrina, and officials want to test reactions without that additional assistance.

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“If Miami were to suffer a direct hit, we would not get that help from Florida. We need to know what’s coming and what to expect if we don’t have that additional assistance,” Manley said.

Manley said that during the exercises communications are tested from the county level to the state level, as well as setting up emergency needs such as food, water, ice and shelters. The main focus, however, is on the six coastal counties.

“This is a statewide opportunity to pull our plans out and review them for possible issues. People have signed up for responsibilities during emergencies, and we need to test them to make sure they can do the job… but we’re mainly testing the lower six counties and their ability to deal in an emergency situation,” Manley said.

The day also included a meeting of county officials to discuss possible problems within the county should an emergency situation arise.

One such problem mentioned is the clearing of county roads after a hurricane.

“The main thing I think that was missed during Katrina was the pre-planning to clear the roads afterwards… We need a plan already in place to clear the roads and get the main arteries open. The critical thing is getting stuff out of the road, because not everyone is going to evacuate and we need to be able to get to them. You can tell people something is happening, but if you can’t get to them, you haven’t done anything,” said Lawrence Holliday.

County Road Manager Mike Mitchell agreed, saying, “There are over 1,000 miles of road in this county, and I don’t have the manpower to clear them quickly. The main thing is for us to get these main arteries open.”

Shelley Smith of Highland Community Hospital said the hospital has made several changes to improve its response and abilities in the case of another emergency.

“We have a ham radio grant, and a satellite phone. We also will have a diesel tank delivered at the start of hurricane season. We have an evacuation plan in place in the event of a Category Three or higher. AAA Ambulance will transfer the majority of patients out of the hospital. Also, during Katrina, we had many families of our staff there with us. We have streamlined that so we will only have essential staff at the hospital during a hurricane,” Smith said.

Pearl River County School District Superintendent Dennis Penton said the school district has been designated as the hub for all the schools in the state to bus out evacuees.

“Buses carrying evacuees will come into the Pearl River County School District and then will be redirected north on different buses. We will not be registering evacuees, but there will be a team of school resource officers sent in to register destinations of various buses. Tracking them will be the state’s responsibility,” Penton said.

Manley said there will be a drill and meeting on the first Thursday of every month from now until the end of hurricane season, which runs from June 1 until Nov. 30.