Expect active season

June 29, 2010 at 8:22 pm

It’s that time of year; what’s your game plan?

BY VANESSA C. DEGGINS

State officials were in Southwest Louisiana on Monday to meet with local sheriffs to discuss what is expected to be a busy hurricane season.

“We mainly want to make sure we’re all on the same page,” Calcasieu Parish Sheriff Tony Mancuso said after speaking with state police head Col. Mike Edmonson.

The first named storm, Alex, entered the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday as a tropical depression, but has since developed into a tropical storm with winds near 65 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

“We’re not sure what’s going to happen with this storm, and if it stays on the current path, we’ll still be dealing with some lingering effects,” Mancuso said.

Edmonson said he is spending the week talking to sheriffs and emergency preparedness directors in coastal parishes.

“Right now, there’s only a 5 to 10 percent chance the storm will hit this area, but we like to be proactive,” he said.

“We’re already seeing a deviation from the norm with a storm this early,” said Mark Cooper, director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

“Residents need to make sure they have an evacuation plan for their families and elderly neighbors.”

“No matter what, don’t wait until the last minute,” Mancuso said. “My philosophy is, ‘If it’s predictable, it’s preventable.’ Once it’s in the Gulf, there’s a chance it can come this way.”

“When we start ordering evacuations, residents need to also have a set place or places to go and make sure they have food and water in their car,” Edmonson said.

Cooper said he’s confident the entire state is prepared for a busy season, even with the oil spill. He said officials have met with BP and the U.S. Coast Guard to review emergency plans.

Lessons learned
State and local officials learned much during and after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, said Mancuso and Edmonson.

“Rita showed us our vulnerabilities on fuel and power,” Mancuso said. “We set up our own fuel supply, and for power we have backups for the backups.”

For evacuations, Calcasieu Office of Emergency Preparedness officials have specific shelters for residents, whom they transport by bus.

“We will also be sending a 10- to-12-man team to those shelters, so it’s less of a burden on the local authorities,” Mancuso said.

Cooper said state officials have increased shelter capacity from 11,000 in 2009 to about 24,000 statewide, as well as set up shelter agreements in other states.

“Our Get A Game Plan website has instructions and video on how to put together an evacuation plan,” Cooper said. He also explained the Louisiana Earth Google map feature. It was initially tracking the oil spill, but Cooper said it also has evacuation routes and shelter locations.

“Since 2005, we have been using state and federal money to make sure all first responders are on the 700 MHz digital radio system,” Edmonson said.

The system allows for statewide communication between most first responders and is considered more reliable during disasters.

SW La. does it right
Edmonson and Cooper both praised Southwest Louisiana residents for their actions during hurricane season.

“I’ve said it before: If you want to look at the way to do things right, look to Southwest Louisiana,” Edmonson said. “We could have initiated the contraflow during Gustav and Ike, but there was no reason. People left when we told them to.”

He said that initiating contraflow requires a lot of manpower and can require about 300 men in Southwest Louisiana if Texas evacuees must travel through.

“During the last storm, they left it up to us to call it, and I constantly meet with the mayors and police chiefs to get their input,” Mancuso said.

He said he always reminds residents that there is a point when officers are pulled off the streets because of weather, and that people who stay during a mandatory evacuation may not be able to get help.

“It’s a bad feeling because our job is to help,” Mancuso said. “But we just need people to trust that we’re going to protect this community and sometimes that means telling them to leave.”


Online: http://www.getagameplan.org; http://www.laearth.la.gov.
To see the Get a Game Plan public service announcement, go to
www.americanpress.com

link: http://bit.ly/dp5gCs

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