Board discusses Gustav

Published 1:46 pm Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Hurricane Gustav caused minimal structural damage in Pearl River County but gave a peek into problems concerning emergency communications and the implementation of contraflow.

While only five or six houses were damaged in the storm, the major concerns dealt with the near loss of 911 communications and problems with contraflow.

Pearl River County Emergency Management Director Danny Manley said the battery back up system on the 911 communications system had only four hours of charge left. County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin said that the trouble was with a BellSouth main hub box located down the road from the county jail. Power was restored before the battery died.

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Damage in the county was minimal, dealing small blows mostly to small tree limbs and trees. Manley said only about six houses suffered some kind of storm damage.

To patch the possible holes in emergency communications that could occur in a storm, Manley suggested the county and Poplarville team up to back up each other. District I Supervisor Anthony Hales said he did not want to deal with the city since it seems that the county has to haggle and negotiate to get them to cooperate with emergency communications. Consideration of moving the communication center from the jail to a city to provide more reliable power coverage also met with resistance. Manley said the Sheriff’s Department seems to have a problem moving their dispatchers from the jail.

Hales said the dispatchers have nothing to do with fielding 911 calls, that the county allows them to do so. Manley said moving emergency calls out of the Sheriff’s Department dispatchers hands would create another step that could open up another avenue of error.

“When it all comes down to where the rubber meets the road. You don’t need all those steps,” Hales said.

Hales suggested that since the county is declared by law to be in control of 911 communications, it needs to just set a standard and have those affected abide by it.

“When my momma told me this was the way it was going to be, that was the way it was going to be. There wasn’t room for discussion,” Hales said.

Board Attorney Joe Montgomery is researching the law and what it entails. He is expected to come back at a later meeting to tell the board of his findings concerning emergency 911 communications.

Contraflow also was a problem during Gustav as its implementation caused concern for county officials. Manley said he had a discussion with the Mississippi Department of Transportation director months before Hurricane Gustav came ashore. The discussion focused on the fact that Pearl River County is not equipped to provide services that such a large amount of traffic would require. Manley’s inquiry about the ability to close the exits was answered that the exits belonged to MDOT and the decision was theirs to make. Exits were closed for an hour at a time before Gustav by the Mississippi Highway Patrol to alleviate traffic on U.S. 11, Lumpkin said. Other than that, the exits remained open.

District III Supervisor Hudson Holliday suggested using a radio station broadcast to share information about the current state of services in the county. Motorists could be instructed to tune into that station by signs along the interstate and know if there was fuel or shelter available without having to stop.

Problems included the original plan for contraflow not being followed. That plan stated contraflow was to run all the way to Hattiesburg, but a complaint from an official in Hattiesburg caused the contraflow to end and bottleneck at Poplarville, Manley said.

Shelters also were a problem. There was a lack of shelters in Pearl River County but in Forrest County there was a 2,000-person shelter that wasn’t opened until Monday. Manley thought the Forrest County shelter should have been opened on Saturday.

The shelter in Picayune at Manna Ministries, which was run by American Red Cross, was not stocked as initially expected. Only 30 cots, 10 percent of what was promised, were brought to the shelter. Provisions included only crackers and water, Manley said. Lumpkin said the county needs to stop counting on Red Cross and others to help in times of emergencies. Manley said every resource used in the county during Gustav came from Pearl River County.

Some pending litigation at the jail was resolved in favor of the county. Montgomery said a lawsuit against the jail was found in the county’s favor. To him that is recognition from federal courts that Pearl River County has a good jail.

The board also;

— Acknowledged proof of publication of the delinquent taxes for 2008, which cost about $16,000.

— Approved allocating about $75,000 to Partners for Pearl River County.

— Approved issuing a check to United Health Care to get everything in order for when the health care provider’s coverage takes effect for county employees on Oct. 1.

The next meeting is at 9 a.m. Sept. 8. A budget hearing will take place on Sept. 15, where the board will adopt the next fiscal year’s budget.