Crisis response options reviewed, discussed

Posted April 7, 2021 at 12:00 pm

An informal meeting of about a dozen people was held last Wednesday afternoon, March 31, at the fairgrounds building, to discuss and recommend possible updates to the county’s local crisis response plan in wake of the February ice storm that left many without water and/or electricity, the latter for up to a few days following the event.

The meeting came about following a special meeting of the Albany City Council which was held shortly after the storm that caused ice damage across the county and left some people in the cold and seeking shelter.

That meeting was called by four city council members, led by new member Sarah Browning, who along with Emergency Management Director Lucas Abner, planned the informal session to discuss the local disaster plan.

Among those present at the meeting included Abner, Browning, fellow council member Steve Lawson, Clinton County Judge/Executive Ricky Craig, Albany Mayor Lyle Pierce, Mike Matthews, Clinton County Fair Board President (who opened the fairgrounds building to people during the storm), two employees from the local Clinton Care & Rehab Center, and three City of Albany street department personnel members.

Browning opened the session by noting that due to the events this past winter, she felt there were some areas that needed to be addressed.

There has long been a wide-range emergency disaster plan in place, on file at the Emergency Services building and other locations, but Browning felt some things need to be added, such as people knowing who they can call and where they can go in the event of such a situation as the major ice storm.

Abner then reviewed and highlighted things in the current plan. He also thanked those, such as Matthews and Albany Fire Chief Robert Roeper, among others, for opening their facilities, allowing people shelter during the storm.

He added, however, there were some things that needed to be looked at, including the water situation, saying the EOC field command, during disasters, is staffed around the clock. “Plans are great, but there is nothing like the ice storm,” he said.

In every situation, things could be done differently, “But I am good at taking criticism,” Abner said, while also thanking those who hauled in water to those who were without during the water outages that occurred during the storm.

Judge Craig said, “We have problems, but everyone did the best we could do under the circumstances.” He added his office was bombarded by calls about the water, saying many had tried to call city hall and could not reach it.

Mayor Pierce replied, “We will work on that.”

Abner then recommended having a phone number to get out to the public in these situations, and others, such as when a boil water advisory is issued. He also said they could possibly set up a social media site at the dispatch center, which is a ‘catch all’ for calls during such situations.

Browning concurred with Abner’s assessment, saying they needed to streamline calls and information to everyone and “social media is immediate” to all who have access to the internet.

Judge Craig noted that as far as the electrical problems associated with the storm, the RECC updated the public periodically on the situation, but added when someone calls for information, they want to “hear someone’s voice on the other end,” or know they are speaking to an actual person.

Browning said she felt everyone was on the same page about that.

Judge Craig also commended the staff working at the local nursing home, especially with COVID-19 going on at the same time.

Abner then said he appreciated the small things people did, like taking ice to the nursing home during that severe situation.

Two women who work at the nursing home also thanked the DES and all others who supported the facility and its patients during the difficult time.

Abner also said, “We can improve everything we do,” going on to thank the Clinton County Fair Board and VFW for opening their doors to provide needed shelter during the storm of 2021. He also said the new Red Cross director for this area is in charge of activating the EAS and there is going to be someone there at all times.

Browning also recommended identifying volunteers and announcing temporary (water) fill locations, and when we do, “Let people know about it.”

Mayor Pierce said that people could have the option of buying water and also recommended going to the fire department to get water in these situations

It was also noted during the meeting that the schools, when not in session, open the gymnasiums to people in crisis situations and it was highly recommended by officials that residents sign up for Code Red (which may be done by contacting Emergency Services) on their phones, which alerts people who have it of any severe weather information or warnings.

It was noted also that the courthouse is always open during severe weather.

Browning also suggested that the judge, mayor and EM Director put things out there, similar to Judge Craig’s COVID reports he posts on social media.

Finally, when asked about the status of “safe houses,” which the county has already been approved for, Abner said FEMA now has that under review, but he does not know yet any particular time lines on possible construction.

Those “safe rooms” are primarily used for people to go to in case of severe weather, such as tornado warnings, and so forth, but could also be used as shelter for such periods as the February ice storm.

Plans are currently in the works to construct four such facilities in different locations of the county, including at the Cave Springs, Piney Woods, Duvall Valley and EMS areas.

Each safe house will be designed to house up to 150 people at once, or 600 total county-wide when needed during a disaster situation.