Hurricane season preparations underway by city officials

Published 7:00 am Friday, May 12, 2017

As hurricane season approaches, city officials and emergency personnel are using mock scenarios to ensure they are prepared for the landfall of a major storm.
Thursday, city representatives gathered at City Hall to discuss their current plans of action and areas of concern.
Within each department, including police, fire, public works, parks and recreation, airport and administration, the plans start 96 hours from a storm’s potential landfall in Pearl River County.
Each of those plans starts with having city employees in every department ensure the safety of their families either at home or through evacuation. Assistant Fire Chief Barry Lee said that process allows all emergency personnel and city employees to keep their minds on the tasks at hand.
Public Works Director Eric Morris said his department will focus on having chainsaws secured and operational, trucks at peak operating condition and find a place to stage essential equipment. Another task will be to pick up any debris piles at street sides.
Airport Manager Andy Greenwood said he will focus on securing aircraft parked on the airport’s apron. Planes that can be moved to empty hangers will be while the remainder will be secured as best as possible to prevent wind damage to the craft.
Prior to the storm’s arrival, ambulances will be staged at fire departments, and the hospital’s staff will begin assessing the needs of staff and patients.
Highland Community Hospital Director of Quality Susanne Wilson said the local staff will assess current patients to see which ones need to be transferred to Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg, and which ones are stable enough to send home.
Pearl River County Utility Authority staff will also prepare to respond to the needs of its infrastructure after the storm, Director of Operations Allen Howe said.
Byron Hill with Mississippi Power said electric company staff will assess damage to the lines and other infrastructure after the storm. At that point extra help can be requested from other areas to assist in restoring power.
Prior to the storm’s landfall, emergency operation centers will be manned in the city and in the county. Pearl River County Emergency Management Director Danny Manley will work with Picayune Fire Chief Keith Brown to keep both EOCs in contact with each other.
When contraflow is enacted, Lee said that will be the point when supplies will become hard to find at grocery and hardware stores, most of all gasoline.
Picayune Police Assistant Chief Jeremy Magri said the police department will double up on patrols at about the time contraflow begins, if not before. Manley said extra law enforcement personnel will come to Pearl River County, but in his experience they don’t always show up on time. He expects to receive 24 extra officers, 12 of which will be assigned to the city of Picayune with the rest assisting the Pearl River County Sheriff’s Department. Their primary task will be to deal with the contraflow.
There are several shelters in the area, all built post Katrina, but none in this county are capable of providing special needs care. Manley said there is ones special needs shelter in Stone County, but there is no organized public transit system to get them there.
Lee said shelters won’t be opened until they are absolutely needed in an effort to persuade citizens using contraflow to proceed north where the effects of the storm will be minimal.
At the end of the meeting Lee gathered some concerns from each department. Magri said his major concern is the lack of available manpower, especially when contraflow brings increased traffic and accidents. Morris addressed the lack of a place to safety store heavy equipment out of the elements. Morris plans to speak with area businesses to see if a temporary sheltered staging point can be found.
Howe said his concern will be storage of generators, especially since the Utility Authority has 86 lift stations in the county, more than 50 of which are in Picayune.
Just about every department representative expressed concern with the foreseen gasoline shortage. All agencies and departments plan to have gasoline secured ahead of time to address that concern.
Lastly, Lee said all residents should keep their medical needs in mind. Oxygen, insulin or other medication should be procured long before a storm’s landfall.

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