Hurricane prep ‘good training’ operation for county emergency personnel

By Kitsey Burns Harrison - kburns@yadkinripple.com
Emergency personnel in Yadkin County gather for a debriefing following Hurricane Florence. - Photos courtesy of Yadkin County Fire Marshal Ricky Leonard
Emergency personnel in Yadkin County gather for a debriefing following Hurricane Florence. - Photos courtesy of Yadkin County Fire Marshal Ricky Leonard

A debriefing was held Monday evening for emergency personnel and town leaders who were on standby as Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina.

Early predictions for Yadkin County were that strong winds and rain could cause major issues. As the storm progressed, the threat of severe flooding was predicted. Though the final result was that Yadkin County saw very little impact from the storm, Emergency Services Director Keith Vestal said it was a good training exercise for emergency responders.

A state of emergency was declared for the county, and the county’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) went into effect, which was manned around the clock throughout the event. Local fire departments as well as the Yadkin County Rescue Squad had personnel at the ready should they need to respond to emergencies stemming from the storm.

Vestal said though there wasn’t much to do in the way of response, it allowed them to get a true-life feel for how things should run should the storm have caused the predicted problems locally.

“We had to plan for the worst,” Vestal said. “It wasn’t a wasted event, because we were able to put plans in place, and it was a great training for us. It was a super drill that lasted multiple days, and everybody performed great.”

As part of the preparations for the storm, which at one point was predicted to cause a 26.6 feet crest of the Yadkin River, a flood map was created by GIS Specialist Steven Ratcliffe. The map allowed emergency personnel to identify specific areas of the county which are particularly at risk for flooding. Multiple structures would likely have been impacted by flood waters had the predicted flood levels happened.

Communications with various emergency agencies throughout the county is one issue Vestal said they did discuss at Monday’s briefing. So as not to overwhelm the regular communications and emergency dispatch system, agencies were asked to communicate through newer VIPER radios, which not all agencies have at this point in time. The higher frequency radios are used across the state and have a much further reach.

Vestal said there is an increased need for this type of communication system, particular in situations such as threat of a hurricane, major ice storms, or tornadoes which would affect multiple areas of the county.

Vestal concluded though Hurricane Florence did not bring the catastrophic effects to Yadkin County as it did further east, he hopes area residents will still pay close attention to emergency warnings during future storms.

“Our biggest fear is that people will be complacent,” he said. “We just have to go by what the experts are telling us is coming and plan for it, and we really hope that it doesn’t happen. No matter what the warnings are, there is a good reason that we’re sending those warnings out to people to prepare, and they always need to pay attention and heed those warnings. It really did get bad down east. They were getting the same warnings, we just got lucky.”

Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-518-3049 or on Twitter and Instagram @RippleReporterK.

Emergency personnel in Yadkin County gather for a debriefing following Hurricane Florence.
https://www.yadkinripple.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/web1_IMG_5622_formatted.jpgEmergency personnel in Yadkin County gather for a debriefing following Hurricane Florence. Photos courtesy of Yadkin County Fire Marshal Ricky Leonard

Emergency personnel in Yadkin County gather for a debriefing following Hurricane Florence.
https://www.yadkinripple.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/web1_IMG_5623_formatted.jpgEmergency personnel in Yadkin County gather for a debriefing following Hurricane Florence. Photos courtesy of Yadkin County Fire Marshal Ricky Leonard

By Kitsey Burns Harrison

kburns@yadkinripple.com