EOC’s personnel, equipment invaluable to emergency responses

Published 8:52 pm Friday, October 7, 2016

It’s a facility Beaufort County officials would rather not use, but when it’s used, it can help save lives and property.

That’s the purpose of the county’s Emergency Operations Center at the Emergency Management Department off Highland Drive and next to the Beaufort County Health Department. Inside the somewhat non-descript building — except, possibly, for the array of antennae outside — there’s a room filled with equipment used to track hurricanes, monitor other emergencies and deal with other hazardous and deadly situations and events.

Within the past several days, the county’s EOC support team — about 25 people from various county agencies, state agencies and municipalities — met several times in the room to develop plans to deal with Hurricane Matthew. Leading that planning and overseeing EOC operations when the ECO is activated is John Pack, the county’s emergency-management director.

Not all of the EOC support team would work out of the EOC when it’s activated, but some of them do. They tend to be the law enforcement, fire department, emergency medical services, public works and other immediate-response personnel. It’s Pack’s task to make sure those people at the EOC know what to do, what equipment to use and when to act to keep adverse effects of emergency situations to a minimum.

“I work off a checklist so I don’t forget something,” Pack said. That checklist is at list two pages long. Sometimes that checklist is project on a wall inside the EOC so it’s visible to all in the room.

In a natural disaster such as a hurricane, the EOC serves as the nerve center for responses to that disaster. EOC personnel make decisions before a hurricane reaches the area — evacuations, opening shelters or requesting resources to use before, during and after a storm affects the area. During a hurricane, they monitor how the storm impacts the county and what resources might be deployed to save lives and property. After a hurricane, assessments regarding damaged infrastructure (power, water, sewer), storm-debris removal and recovery efforts must be made.

Those decisions must be informed decisions and made swiftly to ensure the county is in the best possible position to respond to and recover from emergencies, whether a natural disaster, terrorist attack or something else.

Pack said the three most critical items at the EOC are its communications equipment, its personnel and its ability to communicate with state officials regarding access to resources the county might need. Among its communications capabilities, is the ability to use ham (amateur) radio operators when other communication systems fail, as they did during Hurricane Irene in 2011 when telephone landlines failed.

“They have the capability to send email over radio frequencies. So, that can send a message in writing … to Raleigh of our needs if the internet is down and we can’t get on WebEOC,” Pack said. WebEOC is a data based used by North Carolina emergency managers at the state and county level to, in part, facilitate requests for personnel, equipment and other resources before, during and after an emergency event such as a hurricane.

EOC staff sometimes have to make quick decisions when conditions change abruptly.

When opening a shelter, sometimes on just four hours’ notice, EOC personnel must consider several things, including how and what to feed shelter residents and how to meet their other needs. To that end, a paramedic at each shelter to handle medical emergencies is desired. The shelters must be secured; that’s where law enforcement plays a role.

During the worst of a hurricane, EMS efforts in the field can be disrupted or suspended to protect the lives of EMS personnel. There’s good news for Belhaven-area residents: the new clinic will remain open during Hurricane Matthew, according to a Vidant Health spokesperson.


About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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