Dare County officials listened to the folks who contacted them directly after Hurricane Irene last year and to those who filled out The Island Free Press Hurricane Irene Response survey, and they have made some changes that they hope will improve communication after the next storm.
County manager Bobby Outten, Emergency Management director Sandy Sanderson, and public information director Dorothy Killingsworth talked about what’s new at the Hurricane Irene Town Hall meeting last week at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras village.
The meeting was sponsored by the National Weather Service, Dare County, The Island Free Press, and North Carolina Sea Grant and was part of the 2012 Day at the Docks celebration.
About 50 people came to hear the presentations and ask questions.
Three meteorologists from the National Weather Service office in Newport gave presentations. If you missed them, we’ve included links to their PowerPoint presentations at the end of this blog.
John Cole spoke first about the lessons learned from Hurricane Irene, which made landfall about 7:30 a.m. near Cape Lookout as a Category 1 storm. His presentation focused on such things as why the Weather Service overestimated the intensity forecast and also what caused the epic storm surge on northern Hatteras Island and other parts of Dare County.
Cole said a major lesson learned from Irene is that we should not focus only on the category of the storm. Even a Category 1 hurricane can bring a catastrophic storm surge.
Meterologist David Glenn talked about National Hurricane Center and National Weather Service/Newport products and how to use them when a storm threatens, and meteorologist Andrew McKaughan gave a presentation on North Carolina hurricane climatology and the 2012 hurricane update.
After a short presentation on the IFP Hurricane Irene Response reader survey, the forecasters answered questions and the Dare County folks talked about how they plan to improve communications after the next storm – and we all know that there will be a next one.
Each hurricane is different and presents its own set of problems on evacuation, re-entry and recovery. I think we would all agree that Hurricane Irene, which cut two new inlets on northern Hatteras Island, presented an especially challenging situation.
In a nutshell, the highway was broken, transportation was by emergency ferry from Stumpy Point only, the power supply was tentative, and folks who evacuated could not get back for as long as 10 days to two weeks after the storm. At times, information was hard to come by and rumors were flying. It was hard to get the correct information to those who needed it in a timely manner.
Dare County has taken a number of steps to improve the situation:
- There is a new page on the county website, dedicated to emergency incident information – hurricanes, northeasters, or other emergencies. The link is http://www.darenc.com/emergencymanagement/.
- You can go to that page to sign up for real-time e-mail updates and/or to receive tweets from emergency management officials.
- After a storm, Dare County will coordinate with local radio stations to set up specific times that county officials will be available to answer questions from the public. Radio was a very effective means of communication on Hatteras after Hurricane Irene, especially before the power was back.
- County emergency management will put out more “bulletins,” short news flashes with details to follow. “For instance,” Dorothy Killingsworth said, “if we know an evacuation will begin at 8 a.m. but don’t have all the details, we will get that out with the message that details will follow.”
- There will be daily videotaped briefings on the website at set times.
Each day, the county will announce when the public can expect the next announcement or bulletin.
Fire departments in each village will continue to be the best place to get correct information on response and re-entry. This was also the case after Hurricane Irene, but in some instances, folks did not go by the fire departments unless they needed a meal. County officials will continue to meet regularly by conference phone calls or whatever with volunteer firefighters, who will serve as the county’s liaison in each village.
There will be a designated county employee to coordinate long-term recovery needs.
In addition, Outten said the county has had regular meetings with the North Carolina Department of Transportation Ferry Division on ways to improve the emergency ferries.
Ferries ran around the clock after Hurricane Irene until Highway 12 reopened on Oct. 10. However, they were much more lightly used in the early morning hours. And the fact that there is only one dock on each side limited the number of ferries that could be running at any given time.
The emphasis in the meetings, Outten said, has been on improving the infrastructure in Stumpy Point and in Rodanthe, so more than one ferry can use the basin at a time. Depending on funding, he said he hopes the Ferry Division can install hydraulic lifts at the docks on each side, add a second dock on each side, dredge the harbors, and improve parking in Stumpy Point and the stacking lanes at Rodanthe.
This, he said, will allow the Ferry Division to run more ferries at the times they are most needed.
These are all significant improvements in communication.
It’s likely that there will always be difficult decisions about re-entry and response, but it’s good to know our county’s leaders have listened to the folks who are most affected.
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE PRESENTATIONS
Click here for the PowerPoint on Hurricane Irene: Lessons Learned
Click here for the PowerPoint on National Hurricane Center and National Weather Service/Newport products
Click here for the PowerPoint on North Carolina hurricane climatology and the 2012 hurricane update.
ISLAND FREE PRESS HURRICANE IRENE RESPONSE SURVEY
In the weeks after Hurricane Irene devastated the Outer Banks, The Island Free Press published a reader survey on the response by state and local agencies and public utilities.
Residents, non-resident property owners, and visitors were invited to participate in the survey. More than 2,200 people responded, and 1,438 completed it.
If you missed the survey, you can read about it in our archives in four parts – two on the attitudes of residents and one each on non-resident property owners and visitors who had to change their vacation plans.
Here are the links to the Hurricane Irene Survey articles:
Other articles about Hurricane Irene and its impact on Hatteras and Ocracoke are also available in the IFP archives. Click on the archives bar at the bottom of the Front Page and then click on 2011 articles for a complete list of stories and photos in the months after the hurricane. Articles on the one-year anniversary of the storm can be found at http://islandfreepress.org/CatIslandFeatures.html.