The Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors held a special meeting last Wednesday to brief about the preparation, response and recovery efforts after Hurricane Irene, and heard from members of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC).
Emily Ashley, emergency management coordinator for Chesterfield County, said they had planned for one category above the state recommended Category 2 storm.
“One of the important things we wanted to make sure of was that everyone was getting information, that we were pushing out as much information we possibly could,” she said.” According to Ashley, information was sent out through parent lists for schools, updates were made to the county website on a particular section made just for the hurricane, and the call center for the EOC also was activated. Also, news releases were sent to various local media.
A human service need was a major focus of the EOC’s efforts in response to Hurricane Irene, said Ashley. One shelter set up by Chesterfield Social Services joined Colonial Heights and made Colonial Heights Middle School a shelter site.
“We didn’t originally open up a shelter for Chesterfield because we didn’t see the need,” she said, “and we weren’t getting that need from the citizens from the call center. Later on that day (Saturday) we saw that there was a potential need; and with Colonial Heights having such a few turnout, we encouraged our residents to go there if they did need shelter.”
Less than 10 people came to that shelter.
Due to the EOC’s concerns for people with medical needs, they decided to open Cosby High School Sunday morning because a generator could “adequately power the facility,” allowing for numerous plug-in sites in anticipation of the medical needs population.
“Obviously that didn’t happen. We had no one show up at Cosby High; it was still a good run, a good test, it was the first time we opened that shelter,” Ashley said.
She also mentioned that Meadowbrook High School had, in the past, been used for shelter; the Sheltering Team Committee, she said, had been meeting pretty regularly, assessing the possibilities of using both Meadowbrook and Cosby. They went with Cosby.
“And we’ve done some internal assessments that the capabilities that Cosby can offer, because of the generator power, it made Cosby a good choice to open [as a shelter]. We did realize that there was a potential need greater somewhere else, and we were prepared to talk through some possible transportation issues if those would have come up,” Ashley said.
The county’s fire chief, Edward “Loy” Senter Jr., added the purpose in having the meeting that day was to determine the next steps that needed to take place. According to Senter, the decision to open shelters is based on certain criteria. He said most of the shelters in the southeastern part of the state are opened beforehand, that is, before the storm emerged, because so many people in that region had to evacuate their homes due to the intensity of the storm.
“We didn’t have that sort of experience here, so we didn’t have more shelters;” he said. “We based that on an as-needed basis.”