While the second-guessing may never truly be over, an endorsement of the mayor’s evacuation order during Hurricane Irene by the state’s Director of Emergency Management Richard Muth has gone at least some of the way of putting concerns to rest.
Muth met with council members recently during their regularly-scheduled work session. The mayor and council were originally invited to the Hotel Motel Restaurant Association’s regular meeting to address concerns. The HMRA meetings are generally only open to members, which prompted council President Jim Hall to change the venue to a more public forum.
All parties agreed in principle that communications needed to be improved, and the messages got mixed and muddled as they were distributed. Ocean City Communications Manager Donna Abbott reportedly suggested a joint information committee that would centralize a plan for use in future emergency situations.
Muth has been quoted saying the evacuation of Ocean City was the right decision and made at the right time.
Mayor Rick Meehan said in a previous interview based on the reports, Hurricane Irene could have been worse for the resort than Hurricane Gloria in 1985. Councilman Joe Hall has been quoted as saying the storm was a real threat and the town had treated it as one. If, he continued, the storm had hit OC as hard as it did north and south of the community the discussion would have been changed to one of rebuilding the town.
HMRA director Susan Jones, who wrote the letter inviting the council to the HMRA meeting, has been reported as explaining the reason for the meeting was not to question specific or particular actions taken but to formulate practical improvements when another storm inevitably makes its way toward Ocean City.
By ordering the early evacuation, Muth said, Ocean City was able to dodge a serious concern that plagued other evacuated areas: traffic. If the Bay Bridge had been closed or other choke points off the Eastern Shore were cut off the situation could have been worse.
Muth reportedly dismissed the criticism that other towns evacuated later than Ocean City who were more directly in Irene’s path. He has been quoted as saying other municipalities often wait for another town to make a move and then follow suit. In this way, Ocean City could be seen as a leader in public safety in the face of what did turn out to be a devastating storm.
Criticisms were voiced and questions were answered and perhaps now is the time to begin looking ahead rather than what had happened during the waning days of summer. Certainly, closing down the town hit many squarely in the pocketbook, but as has been seen and shown the situation could have played out much differently.
The town has a plan and ideas to move forward if and when another storm threatens our shores. These questions were an intrinsic part of this process and an inevitable consequence once the dust settled. If the answers were adequate remains unanswered, but there is often something to be learned from these experiences. Those lessons may not be teased out before the next storm, but it does show the town’s willingness to improve itself.