Tropical miss an opportunity for practice

Published 6:00 pm Tuesday, August 29, 2017

On Monday afternoon, Beaufort County residents were stocking up: on gas, food, water and more. By Tuesday afternoon, it was clear that Potential Tropical Cyclone 10 edging up the East Coast wouldn’t have much impact at all.

That’s just fine with Beaufort County Emergency Management Director Chris Newkirk.

“While some people may view it as a letdown, that is not the image that we have from our office. We’ll take a thousand of that than a full-blown event,” Newkirk said.

The county was under tropical storm and flash flood warnings for Tuesday morning until the afternoon. The wind and rain predicted didn’t happen; no flooding, road closures, trees down or electrical outages were reported, according to Newkirk, but the potential threat provided an opportunity for emergency management.

“Any time that you can practice your procedures in an event that turns out to be nothing is a welcome opportunity,” Newkirk said.

He said Monday and Tuesday saw numerous conference calls and email exchanges throughout a number of agencies operating under the umbrella of Beaufort County government. The focus was gathering and disseminating information, both within county government and to the public.

“It helps us see where we are with preparedness,” Newkirk said. “It kind of keeps everybody singing from the same page of music, so to speak.”

Newkirk said he and others in the emergency management office are keeping close tabs on the emergency response to the devastation Hurricane Harvey is currently wreaking in southeastern Texas.

“When you look at something on that large a scale — the number of responders that are coming in — you can’t help but sit back and play armchair quarterback: ‘What would I do?’” Newkirk said. “How do you communicate on that scale?”

That’s something emergency management has been studying over the last several weeks, Newkirk said. He said people often see footage of dramatic rescues on television but don’t recognize the communication and coordination needed to make such things happen. Watching from afar, as well as experiencing a tropical miss, are learning opportunities for his office.

“We’re going to try to take advantage of any event that we can learn from, whether that’s events that fizzle out or are happening somewhere else,” he said.

For now, Beaufort County got a pass on the tropical system, but hurricane season is far from over. Newkirk said he’s keeping an eye on another out in the Atlantic.