Emergency services talks preparedness, shelters in case of Irma

Published 7:23 pm Thursday, September 7, 2017

Until Hurricane Irma’s track is clear, Beaufort County Emergency Management will continue to prepare for whatever’s coming this way, according to emergency services director Chris Newkirk.

Thursday evening, Irma remained a solid Category 5 hurricane on a path to hit southern Florida over the weekend. The forecast for eastern North Carolina remained unknown, but that’s not stopping county staff from preparing for impact.

“We are hoping tonight or early tomorrow morning — we’re really hoping we have a solid forecast, but until we can get that, we’re not going to drop our guard,” Newkirk said.

Thursday was another day of ramping up communication countywide, as all county department heads, partnering agencies, representatives from law enforcement, municipalities and more met face to face to talk about preparedness.

“We’re making sure that the everybody is geared up and ready to go. The unfortunate thing is that the forecast isn’t nailed down,” Newkirk said.

Gearing up is a combination of large and small details for the county’s all-volunteer fire departments, EMS and Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office.

“Is your department ready to be self-sustained for 72 hours? Where are we on our generators and chainsaws? It’s those little details. The majority of our fire departments are volunteers — they are working on scheduling; EMS, scheduling,” Newkirk said. “All three of those, when we talk about our response, are primary players. They’re the ones that have the lights and the sirens and are responding to calls.”

Of primary importance is the designation of county shelters at Southside High School, P.S. Jones Middle School and Washington High School.

“We have identified those three locations. They have been certified by Red Cross, and we are equipped to open them, if the need arises,” Newkirk said.

He said the decision to open shelters cannot be made until Irma’s track is more defined, which is expected to be over the weekend. However, in advance of any decision about opening shelters, he’s fielding plenty of phone calls from people asking about them — what one should bring to a shelter, security and more.

Those who would consider relocating to a shelter should they open need to be aware of the following:

  • Evacuees should be self-sustained, meaning they should be able to take care of themselves physically. Newkirk said he gets many calls about sheltering special needs residents, but the county is not equipped to care for those with special needs in a shelter environment, unless that person comes to the shelter with a caregiver. The county works with the state and DSS to establish special needs shelters when necessary, though they may be located outside of the county depending on the track of the storm.
  • Evacuees should bring with them: bedding materials such as pillows, sheets and blankets; prescription drugs; toiletries and a change of clothes; snacks, baby food, diapers and any other necessities.
  • Beaufort County shelters cannot take in pets. Pet owners should make plans to house their pets, but as a last resort, there is limited availability to house pets at the Beaufort County Animal Control Facility.
  • No firearms or alcohol are permitted at county shelters.
  • The shelters are secure. Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office deputies are on site at the shelters.

Newkirk said recent forecasts Thursday were leaning in Beaufort County’s favor: Irma appeared to be taking a more westward track. Regardless, emergency management staff is encouraging residents to be prepared.

“We are expecting some type of impact to show its face Monday afternoon. It may be some light rain,” Newkirk said. “It just depends on the shape that it takes and how well (Irma) holds together.”