School system prepares for incoming storm

Published 8:46 pm Wednesday, October 5, 2016

When it comes to student and staff safety, thorough storm preparation is key.

Dr. Don Phipps, superintendent of Beaufort County Schools, said he is working closely with the county’s Emergency Management to say up to date on Hurricane Matthew’s track.

When tropical storm weather heads to eastern North Carolina, Phipps said the school system works to ensure generators are fueled up, light equipment, such as trash cans or bleachers are tethered, computers and other technology are covering and, in some cases, sandbags are put out to stop water.

“We don’t ever want to be found unprepared,” he said. “You just don’t know.”

The high schools have already moved their Friday football games up to today, and school officials continue to consider potentially adverse traveling conditions for buses and families.

“We’re looking at the timing of the storm coming in,” Phipps said. “One of my biggest concerns was the moist soil, and any kind of high winds can cause downed trees.”

Phipps said the only school to flood during his tenure was S.W. Snowden Elementary School during 2011’s Hurricane Irene, when one of the buildings took on 8-10 inches of water. Other schools, including Bath Elementary School and the Ed Tech Center, also experienced some damage.

He said the school district tries to bring crews in as soon as possible when a school has damage, because the sooner it is addressed, the less overall damage will occur.

“You’ve got to try to get in and be responsive,” Phipps said.

As for making district-wide closing decisions, Phipps said that is one of the toughest parts of his job, as it is impossible to know what is happening for sure.

Closing decisions are usually made hours beforehand, so if the weather changes, those decisions still stand.

“We will never be able to be in 100-percent control,” Phipps said. “After the decisions are made, people can second guess what I did. … I have to make a call early based on the information that we have.”

The latest forecasts show Hurricane Matthew moving eastward out to the Atlantic, so as of Wednesday evening, Phipps said changes in school schedules are unlikely.

“We’re kind of more on call at the moment,” he said. “We’re just trying to make the best decisions we can.”