Storm's lessons improve readiness

Published 5:49 pm Wednesday, September 14, 2005

By By MARY-ALLISON LANCASTER – Managing editor
Slowly but surely, the lives of residents are returning back to normal a year after one of the most devastating hurricanes to have hit the area in decades roared through the Gulf Coast and into rural areas.
Friday will mark the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Ivan's landfall. When the storm passed, it seemed that nothing would return back to normal. Residents, city officials and government officials appeared to have mis-communicated, leaving many rural counties unattended for.
However, cities in this county have persevered, and according to Escambia County EMA director David Jennings, from an operational standpoint, the county has recovered from Hurricane Ivan. Officials have learned from mistakes made last year and while there are few obstacles that will always be in place, they have learned what works best for the county.
Communication is key, he said, and that has been the No. 1 thing that has changed since last year's hurricane.
Watching the events unfold during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has also heightened the awareness of how necessary preparation is. In comparing Escambia County's EMA to other rural counties, Jennings said that this county is probably a little bit tighter than some of the surrounding counties, and he said that while speaking with other EMA directors, the cooperation does not appear to exist on the same level in other counties as it does in this county.
But despite the progressive thinking, there are still a few obstacles in place that will always be there as far as infrastructure. With two-way roads as the main thoroughfares heading to the Interstate, evacuating when necessary is up to residents. The roads cannot be reversed like is done on I-65.
While the governor is the only official to issue a mandatory evacuation, it's up to more than one individual to pass on a request.
Getting people to leave is a "pretty tough task," but at this point in time or in the immediate future, Jennings said that it doesn't seem like it would be hard getting people to leave if necessary.
Originally, Jennings had told residents to prepare for two to three days in the event of an emergency. Now, he's advising residents to prepare for two to three weeks. A mandatory evacuation would be dependent on the population leaving in a timely manner, meaning residents would have to begin to leave two to three days prior to the hurricane.
Going head to head with the tough task of evacuation is long-term recovery, which is still evident from the roadside, from which roofs wearing blue tarps are still visible. Not having an exact number in his head, Jennings said that there are still a "number of people out there who are in pretty bad shape" as a result of Ivan's wrath.
Fortunately, in this county, a long-term recovery group has been addressing the unmet needs issues. Jennings said that once FEMA and other organizations leave, it should be up to nonprofit organizations to come together and help citizens in their county recover quickly and efficiently.

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