They were ready

Published 4:06 pm Sunday, August 28, 2011

Prepared, motivated and dedicated — three word that best describe emergency-response workers who continue to help Beaufort County and its seven municipalities recover from Hurricane Irene’s attack on eastern North Carolina.

Without that preparation, motivation and dedication, recovery from Hurricane Irene would take longer, cost more and use more resources. It took the devastation of Hurricane Floyd in 1999 to teach North Carolina governments and residents about the need to prepare for hurricanes.

The county Emergency Operations Center, used for the first time during the 2008 hurricane season, enables emergency-management officials and various others involved in hurricane preparedness and recovery — including law-enforcement and fire officials, utilities workers, the American Red Cross and school representatives, among others — to be housed under one roof, in a permanent setting, during disasters. Having all those officials under one roof no doubt speeds up the decision-making process. When it comes to emergencies, time means lives.

In an interview last year for a series of articles on the 10th anniversary of Floyd, John Pack, emergency-management supervisor for Beaufort County, said he has helped several local churches and homeowners associations develop disaster plans and telephone trees to help their members prepare. And emergency planners are helping re-establish a local volunteer ham-radio network that could aid in communications if telephone systems fail during a storm.

But despite improvements, Pack said, people in Beaufort County need to remain vigilant and develop their own hurricane and disaster-preparedness plans because, in the event of a major hurricane, electricity could be off for days in some areas of the county, water and sewer services could be affected and food supplies could be cut off.

Hurricane Irene proved those words true.

Before Floyd, coastal North Carolina had hurricane-evacuation routes and a general outline of an evacuation plan. It did not have a comprehensive coastal evacuation plan.

Today, that coastal evacuation plan includes detailed information such as the time it takes to evacuate specific cities and counties. And funding is in place to update that plan regularly.

Emergency managers also have detailed, standardized checklists to help them prepare for an advancing storm and better coordinate activities after a storm passes.

Those plans, checklists and equipment proved their worth over the past few days.

So did the people who carried out those plans.

Because they were ready, the area was ready. Thank God.