Law enforcement prepared for disasters

Published 12:00 pm Saturday, May 11, 2013

Law enforcement agencies in the county have protocols they follow to ensure the departments are staffed so they can prepare and respond to natural disasters.

In the instance of a hurricane, Picayune Police Department staff, as with all law enforcement departments, are notified two days in advance that they are required to prepare to ride a hurricane out at the department or at a fire station, said Assistant to the Chief of Police Jeremy Magri. By having staff on hand and staged at strategic locations, such as a fire station, officers can respond to emergencies faster after the storm has passed, Magri said.

The staff will then work split shifts, which means that while one shift is working the other rests at the department. That schedule is maintained until the state of emergency has passed, Magri said.

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Emergency operations are set up at Picayune and the Pearl River County Emergency Operation Centers, where representatives of each law enforcement agency gather and share information as it becomes available.

Some of that information includes when additional manpower from law enforcement agencies from within and without the state will arrive, or if they are available. Pearl River County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Shane Tucker said some of those agencies include Mississippi  Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks; Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics and Mississippi Highway Patrol. Magri said requests for the extra manpower goes through the EOC offices.

“That gives us the extra manpower that we need,” Tucker said.

There are also officers and firefighters in Columbus and Hattiesburg trained in swift water rescue ready to respond where they are needed, Tucker said.

Once the extra manpower arrives, the officers meet with a liaison who will assign them to the areas they will be needed the most, Tucker said.

To dissuade potential looters, additional manpower patrols residential neighborhoods and businesses that would be prime targets for looting, Magri said. Night vision devices are also employed during those patrols, and curfews can be enacted when a state of emergency has been declared.

Deputy Chief Chad Dorn said if only a certain area is without power, or has experienced looting, then the curfews can be localized. Magri said a plan also is in place during times of power outages to disseminate vital information over loud speakers. Satellite phones ensure the department maintains communication even when cell phone towers are without power.

Dorn said the department also has a few digital radios that can be used to keep in touch with local, state and federal agencies and to request help or supplies.

The Sheriff’s Department uses the state-wide digital radio system, which Capt. Kelvin Stanford said gives all members of the Sheriff’s Department 100 percent coverage throughout the county.

All departments now have a backup generator, a change since Hurricane Katrina. Tucker said the Sheriff’s Department in Millard now has a generator powerful enough to run the entire department and the jail. And if for some reason the jail is damaged in an event, there is a backup plan to relocate the inmates until repairs can be made.