Fire chief urges business owners to be ready for hurricanes

Published 12:05 am Thursday, June 25, 2009

The City of Picayune is as prepared for hurricanes as it has ever been, Fire Chief Keith Brown told local business owners at a meeting at City Hall Wednesday morning. Picayune’s new City Hall will be the Emergency Operations Center for the city in case of catastrophes, including hurricanes.

Brown, who also is the city’s emergency manager, gave the business owners some information on the city’s preparations using a power point presentation, then urged the business owners to prepare for a hurricane, if they haven’t already. He also asked those who came to the meeting to bring up any questions they had so that the city could deal with them, if they were problems that fell in his purview.

“The quicker we can get you guys back operating, the easier it is on us,” Brown said.

Businesses being open to meet residents’ needs gives a sense of normalcy to the public, which has a calming effect, he said.

He told the business owners that the key to success in dealing with the public following a catastrophe is making public as much information as possible and said wanted to improve lines of communications with them. Brown asked the business owners and others present to sign in and list an emergency telephone number and an e-mail address so he may send them information in case of any catastrophe.

He said that just prior to, during and following a storm, information will be posted on the city’s Web site and that it also will be disseminated to the Picayune Item and WRJW. Also, Brown said that New Orleans television station WWL has told him that the station will have a reporter at the city’s Emergency Operations Center during and following the landfall of a hurricane in the area and that information also will be available there.

Brown reiterated to the group that the Mississippi Department of Transportation will post information relating to contraflow, once it’s implemented, on Twitter so that travelers and others can access that information on their cell phones or computers.

“Contraflow affects us all. Hopefully, you are thinking about that,” Brown said.

He said that contraflow will now end at mile marker 55 near Purvis, which is about 30 miles north of where it ended last year, hopefully reducing some of the pressure on Picayune.

“Is it still going to back up? Yeah. Are we still going to be overwhelmed? Yeah,” Brown said

“We can’t close the exits. Only the state can do that,” the fire chief and emergency manager said.

However, he said the city has arranged to communicate with the Mississippi Dept. of Transportation to close down the exits intermittently when they become too congested.

Brown asked the business owners if they had plans for their employees.

“Do you have plans for employees that will stay report back to work? … Do you have contact numbers for those who are leaving,” he asked.

“I know that if the families (of fire fighters) are okay, I can get 130 percent out of them. I know that if they are having to worry about their families, I can get only about 60 percent,” Brown said.

He urged the business owners to take an active interest in the welfare of their workers and the workers’ families following a storm so that the workers can concentrate on their jobs, thus better lending a sense of peace and normalcy to a chaotic time.

Brown asked the business owners for patience with emergency responders being able to respond to calls. Though the city has asked for additional law enforcement and has agreements with other agencies to receive the assistance, first responders are likely to be overwhelmed at times following a hurricane.

“We have to set priorities,” he said and gave as an example calls arriving about a parking lot problem and a shooting. The shooting naturally would receive priority, he said.

In the following question and answer session, he urged the business owners to have access to generators and plenty of fuel to run the generators.

Brown said the city has made arrangements for fuels for local government vehicles and generators, but “We’re limited on who we can supply with fuel.”

He told the business owners that the city has a contract with HRL Contracting to begin clearing city streets immediately following a hurricane.

“If you remember Katrina, that’s a must,” Brown said.

A spokesman for the company who was at the meeting told the group that within 24 hours prior to the projected landfall that the company prepositions equipment behind Picayune City Hall so that employees can immediately go to work clearing the city’s streets after a storm passes.

A Coast Electric spokesman said the power cooperative is better prepared than it has ever been before for a major hurricane and a Mississippi Power spokesman said that company is ready as well.

Responding to other questions, Brown urged business owners, including the power company representatives, to prepare photo identification cards or badges to issue to employees to help them deal with authorities if they are stopped while trying to report to their jobs. He said such specific identification could help in an emergency situation and said that the fire department might be able to help since it has the capability of doing that in-house.

In final comments to the group, he urged them to be prepared in every way that they can for a Category 3 or greater storm.