OEM to improve emergency plan

A representative of the Upshur County Office of Emergency Management stressed to the Buckhannon Rotary Club Tuesday the importance of reporting a disability to his agency to improve emergency planning.

Jim Farrell, the public information officer, said the OEM will take the information from those with disabilities by phone. The OEM can then include that person in an emergency preparedness plan. This could help emergency officials better meet the needs of those individuals in an emergency situation like either of the two major 2012 storms.

“We can’t plan for these people if we don’t know who they are,” Farrell said. “If we know where they are in advance, we can plan for them.”

Farrell also said that the West Virginia Red Cross is in dire need of volunteers to assist in emergencies. He said Upshur County is more prepared for emergencies since the derecho and Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

“We are more organized since the last storm. It costs money to be prepared, and Upshur County is not a rich county. I think we are far better than we were in the past,” Farrell said.

Although he said Upshur County is more prepared, he said that it still lacks a true shelter in its emergency plan.

“What we call a shelter and what any church can call a shelter are two different things,” Farrell said. “There are hundreds of rules, procedures and expectations that we have to meet.”

Although shelters usually are still available during an emergency, Farrell said the county does not have an actual agreement with any agency for a shelter.

“This is something you have to talk to your elected officials about,” Farrell said, adding that Upshur County has the equipment for a shelter, but no storage.

Farrell said the Federal Emergency Management Agency outlined various barriers to describe why people may not be prepared for an emergency. Those barriers include people thinking that a disaster can’t happen where they live, not thinking about a disaster at all, thinking there is nothing they can do to make a difference and having a lack of information and resources.

Farrell said that he thinks Upshur County’s problem is that some age groups in the population appear to have left the state.

“West Virginia is getting older and younger, but the middle section, we’re missing a lot of that,” Farrell said.

Farrell said that if one area, like Weston, experienced an isolated disaster, the surrounding areas could assist them. When the two major storms of 2012 hit, however, help was needed by many areas at once.

“We had never experienced (a situation) where five or seven states get hit with the same emergency at the same time,” Farrell said. “If you believe in global warming, which I do not, there are going to be more of these occasions where the old system doesn’t work.”

Farrell reported the warning given for the derecho wind storm of June 29, 2012, was less than 10 minutes before the storm hit. He outlined in a slideshow that a heat wave followed the storm. He said the derecho affected seven states.

Farrell reported that many elected officials, National Guardsmen and key personnel were on vacation when the storm struck. The storm caused nearly a 100 percent power outage for the first 36 hours. It also caused widespread public water shortages, ice wars and supermarket shortages, according to Farrell’s slideshow.

Superstorm Sandy in October 2012 gave people a three-day warning. The storm blanketed the area with heavy, wet snow. It affected nine states and caused a 90 percent power outage in the first 36 hours.

Farrell also reported that there were spotty shortages of public water. By this time, emergency officials had the opportunity to become more familiar with their emergency systems.