County is prepared for disasters

Published 12:00 pm Saturday, April 27, 2013

Late in September of 2005 one of the strongest hurricanes in state history struck the Gulf Coast and passed right over Pearl River County, knocking out power, communications and other utilities for weeks.

Pearl River County has learned numerious things since the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina, leading to many changes throughout the county and its two municipalities helping to ensure the county and its citizens are better prepared.

Earlier this month three formal FEMA funded shelters were officially opened, providing county residents with three safe rooms. One is located at Picayune Memorial High School, another at Pearl River Central High School and the third is next to the Pearl River County Emergency Operations Center in Poplarville. EOC Director Danny Manley said those shelters are a safe place for people to wait out a storm, such as a tornado or hurricane. Their placement near schools in the south end of the county means spectators attending sporting events can take shelter quickly if a storm hits during a game.

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Emergency Management also has been training local citizens equipped with amateur radios to spot and report storm activity. Manley said this information combined with social media provides an outlet to inform residents of developing weather quickly and effectively. Social media also helps the agency dispel rumors and inform the public of road closures due to storm damage or flooding.

With communications out for a week or more in some areas, the state of Mississippi after Katrina worked to install a statewide emergency and law enforcement radio system that would stand up to the next big storm. The digital system was installed throughout the state, and allows county personnel to stay in touch with state and federal officials during and after an emergency, Manley said. Currently, the Pearl River County Sheriff’s Department is using borrowed equipment to utilize the system as they take and respond to calls.

Manley said the communication system, as well as the emergency plans formed after Katrina, were exercised effectively during last year’s Hurricane Isaac. Isaac brought record flooding to many of the county’s waterways, and flooded neighborhoods that had not flooded before.

Rescues went well after Isaac, as many first responders brought people trapped by flood waters to dry land. Only one death was reported during the storm, which was caused by a falling tree striking a moving vehicle.

The tornado that struck on Christmas Day of last year also was a test of the emergency systems. Manley said the way local emergency responders handled the disaster of that magnitude was impressive.

“Which is pretty amazing if you think about it. We were not overwhelmed,” Manley said. “We did not have to get outside resources to come in and handle that response operation.”

The lessons from Katrina allowed damage assessments to be conducted and recovery centers set up quickly, Manley said.

Manley said during his five years as the EOC Director he has been able to come up with plans to overcome the adversities of past events. One of those plans was to install generators in all of the crucial places in the county, including municipal buildings, county buildings, water systems, sewer systems and emergency services, Manley said.