Bath officials evaluate county storm response
Hot Springs, Va. – The June 29 storm brought a lot of lessons to county officials that can help them be better prepared for next time. In Bath County, officials learned what worked well and they are thinking about next time and the “what ifs”? Matt Walker is the Administrator for Bath County.
“If we had not had cell phones and if we had not had some means to communicate in that respect, it would have been a lot more problematic,” says Walker. “Of course where I live in Bath County we don’t have cell phone service, so I’ve weaned myself from cell phones a little bit. Having the ability to call the state, Virginia Emergency Operations Center, by cell phone was a blessing. We had land lines at the courthouse, but I understand some areas of the county, their landlines went down. You always have to have redundancies in plans and that’s probably the main thing we’re going to be working on over the next couple of months, is making sure we have standard operating guidelines that address situations and have redundancies built in.”
Walker feels one of the things that Bath did well in the storm’s aftermath was getting Code Red messages out. Code Red messages go to people’s internet, cell phones and land line phones. But in order to receive Code Red messages, the power needs to be on and phones need to be working.
“I think we were lucky in many respects this time that we did not have a mass casualty event, that we did not have a lot of structural damage to people’s homes,” says Walker. “We did not see a widespread emergency in that respect. What we had was a sustained power outage. I share Andy Seabolt’s concern that communication is going to be very important. We did a good job this time with communication. But it brought to the forefront some considerations that we need to have. We need to have redundancy in the way we get messages out to people, especially if the power’s out. I’ve come up with several specific ideas just in the course of this event that we could work towards implementing. One involves public radio, using this radio station as a good beacon not only to get the information out to people, but just as a morale booster. I heard one of your DJ’s the other morning saying how he listened to the radio and it just kind of picked up his spirits, if nothing else. That’s important in times like this. The most important asset we have in an emergency or a crisis situation is our minds. We have to keep a good morale and we have to keep a good mindset on things or despair enters in and bad things happen as a result. Having said that, we need folks with radios that can receive the message. So if you’ve got a radio that depends on power, we need to try to figure out a way to get good radios that are off the grid into people’s hands. Solar or crank radios or even battery powered radios with enough batteries to last a week to make sure that you can receive the message.”
Walker says Bath County is planning internal post-event debriefings to evaluate the county’s response. After that, Bath officials want to hold an external meeting to evaluate how well Bath worked with other entities such as neighboring counties and the Red Cross.