(Feb. 15, 2013) Prepare for recovery in advance of a weather disaster such as a flood or hurricane or an act of terrorism, Worcester County government staffers advised last week.
“The lesson of all this is preparation,” said Ed Tudor, director of the Department of Development Review and Permitting, during the Feb. 7 meeting of the Worcester County Planning Commission in Snow Hill.
In Worcester County, after the Emergency Services Department determines conditions are safe after a disaster, the supervisor notifies staff to report. Team members in the northern end of the county assemble at the Berlin library and team members in the southern end assemble at the Worcester County Government Center in Snow Hill.
When it is time to go out to assess damage, staff members know their assigned territories and are equipped with detailed maps and survey sheets, adapted from the Maryland Emergency Management Administration, to log information.
Every area of the county is surveyed for damage because 15 teams of trained staff members go two-by-two to have a look and to note any damage. With a radio and county vehicle, they drive up and down the county’s roads. Municipalities are not included because they are responsible for their own areas.
The teams report where roads are closed, where trees or power lines are down and the level of floodwater on property.
After an initial damage assessment, known as a windshield survey, a more detailed street survey is done.
Precise data is noted on disaster survey sheets. Team members must note the address, the type of building, its number of floors, the water depth in inches and the level of damage. They also write a detailed description of the damage.
During their assessment work, they are expected to check in with staff members who remained in Snow Hill at base camp, so to speak. One issue was a radio problem, so if that occurs, they try to remain in contact by using cell phones. They would like to have cameras.
At the conclusion of the disaster assessment, team members and county staff who remained in Snow Hill congregate at the Worcester Government Center to tally the findings and “find out what to do better,” said Kelly Henry, the county’s head of technical services.
“Each time we go out, we look at it as a form of a drill,” she said.
Residents could make it easier for the teams to do their work by making sure their street addresses are visible.
“The biggest thing we find is that addresses are not posted,” Henry said.
Posted, visible addresses are vital in damage assessment and for emergency help such as calls for police, firefighters and ambulance crews.
Four or five weeks after Hurricane Sandy caused considerable damage in Crisfield, officials asked for help from Worcester. Tudor and Phyllis Wimbrow, deputy director of the Department of Development Review and Permitting, went to assist.
Tudor said little preparation had been done. Organized advance planning seemed nonexistent.
They did not know their way around all of the roads in the Crisfield area and “there were no maps for us to work off of,” Tudor said.
Their primary task in Crisfield was to determine if the initial damage reports were accurate and they found that those reports were lacking.
“There was a considerable number of things that were unreported,” Tudor said. “There were certain areas nobody had been to yet.”
The remoteness of some of the areas was also a hindrance. Sometimes they saw a damaged building, but did not know where they were and saw no street signs or identifying landmarks.
“Things didn’t get reported because of no way to describe it,” Tudor said.
There were also certain areas where they were not wanted.
“A number of places, we were not welcome,” Tudor said. “That hurt their numbers.”
Crisfield and other Somerset County residents were asked repeatedly to report property damage so the town could qualify for federal assistance from FEMA. Some would not do it.
At one house, the resident told Tudor his house was not damaged, but some of his neighbors had already told Tudor that it had indeed been damaged. The man had kept quiet about it and had fixed it himself.
Tudor said that the man did not realize his reticence was hurting his neighbors’ chances of getting federal assistance and that “independent spirit” was not unusual in Crisfield.
Rev. Betty Smith of St. Paul AME Church in Crisfield, and a member of the Worcester County Planning Commission, also noted the level of independence among Crisfield residents. Some people said, ‘It always floods here,” she said. She added that some people are traumatized and scared.
Some Crisfield residents, she said, are still living in hotels and others are living in houses with mold.
“It’s just so overwhelming,” Smith said.
The experience in Crisfield emphasized the need for advance planning because there did not seem to be any.
“It pointed out how critical it is to be prepared and have resources,” Tudor said.