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OEM director discusses storm response

Wise tells committee 90 percent of Randolph County has recovered from Oct. 29 crisis

November 14, 2012
By Katie Kuba - Senior Staff Writer ( , The Inter-Mountain

About 90 percent of Randolph County has recovered from the Oct. 29 snowstorm that knocked out power across much of north-central West Virginia, the acting director of the Office of Emergency Management said Tuesday.

Jim Wise took questions from members of the Randolph County Local Emergency Planning Committee at the group's monthly meeting in the Weese Annex. Wise also briefed the group on the OEM's efforts in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, highlighting some of the challenges as it tried to facilitate the county's recovery.

Wise- who is also director of the Randolph County E-911 Center - was appointed acting director of the OEM when Marvin Hill, the agency's former director, retired Oct. 26. Wise's first day in his new role was Oct. 29 - the day the storm swept into the region.

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"I had no luxury of setting any team in place," Wise told the LEPC. He said he focused on establishing emergency shelters -eight of which were open "fairly early on," he said - and distributing information to the public through every available avenue.

"I tried to pump information out to the public in every available way through every available media outlet and through WDNE radio's AM and FM stations," Wise said.

"I was on the Hoppy Kercheval show at least three times a day in the first few days because I know (communication) was one of the issues we ran into with the (June 29) derecho."

He also reported that all but two fire departments - Huttonsville and Mill Creek Volunteer Fire Departments - functioned as emergency shelters for local residents.

LEPC member Bonnie Serrett noted that the Randolph County Commission has paid for generators to keep all county fire departments in operation as "bona fide emergency shelters with food arrangements and sleep arrangements" during any future emergencies. The generators were ordered for fire departments without them and are "en route," Serrett said.

Wise said the OEM encountered several stumbling blocks, one of which was a breakdown in communication between itself and the state Department of Highways. Wise said he possessed a variety of resources intended to aid the DOH in removing snow and downed trees - including dump loader teams, front end loaders and chainsaw teams - but was not provided with information about where to send those resources.

Also, Wise said someone in the community posted fliers falsely claiming that the OEM would provide $300 to people who needed money to replace lost food or fill up their gas tanks.

"All that did was tie up our phone lines and hinder me a great deal," he said.

Wise said the Federal Emergency Management Agency also made the OEM's job more difficult by intercepting food and water supplies originally intended to be distributed in West Virginia and re-routing them to New York and New Jersey.

"FEMA went below the level of the state and was hijacking shipments of food and water and diverting them to New York and New Jersey, where the storm was worse," Wise said. "Finally we had a liaison team from the National Guard help track the shipments."

Wise said Mon Power had been "pretty helpful" in its communications with the OEM about when and where power would be restored.

In the most recent update Wise received from Mon Power, the electric company stated that it had restored power to 95 percent of customers in Randolph County.

Todd Meyers, a spokesman with Mon Power, said that, as of Tuesday, there were 133 customers in Randolph County without power - but cautioned that it's difficult to tell if all the outages are connected to the Oct. 29 storm.

"It's hard anymore to separate out (power outages resulting from other causes) from the original outages," Meyers said. "You'll never get down to zero." Of the 133 outages, 33 were in Bowden, 30 in Elkins, 21 in Ellamore and eight apiece in Montrose and Beverly, he said.

"Our goal is to get everyone back on from the original storm by 11:59 p.m. (Tuesday)," Meyers said.

Several LEPC members congratulated Wise on a job well done at Tuesday's meeting.

"I heard nothing but good things," Serrett said. "The biggest complaint was about the power company itself, but of course everyone wants their power back on."



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