Update 11/4/11 10:25 a.m.: Council Member Doug Cymek posted on Facebook that the scheduled appearance at the next HMRA meeting Nov. 10 has been moved to the Council’s regular work session on Nov. 15 at noon at the request of Council President Jim Hall. This information has been confirmed by HMRA Executive Director Susan Jones.
The decision to evacuate Ocean City at the end of August in anticipation of Hurricane Irene has come under sharp criticism from some local businesses – especially since the storm largely passed by our beaches.
But hindsight is hindsight and business is business. Local officials including Mayor Rick Meehan have stood by the decision to evacuate, but that doesn’t mean there are not questions to be answered. To this end, the Ocean City Hotel Motel Restaurant Association has invited Meehan, Council President Jim Hall and other council members as well as the Director of Emergency Services Joe Theobald to its meeting next Thursday, November 10. The meeting is not open to the public.
The effects of the evacuation are not insignificant. Population projections would put the expected numbers during that weekend at greater than 200,000 people. It is this evacuation blamed for the overall flat numbers in Ocean City tourism this year – though some events made up some ground, it was just too big of a hole to fill in what would have been an otherwise “up” season.
Of chief concern is timing. According to a letter sent to government officials by HMRA Executive Director Susan Jones, other beach communities hit earlier by the storm held off on evacuating until later than Ocean City did. Other concerns listed are largely of messaging – who knew what and when, plus what some people were told vs. what had actually occurred.
Other communities and even businesses hold this type of post-mortem after significant events in an effort to learn and improve efforts later.
Indeed, because Ocean City lies within the path of hurricanes, this is not the last storm that will threaten these shores. And no plan is perfect but they don’t necessarily need to be.
Though there are questions to be answered – and good ones – it is important to note that no serious injuries were reported. And because damage to the resort was limited, despite serious consequences elsewhere in Irene’s path, it fuels a perception of overreaction.
The results of this meeting will be interesting to see and consequences – if any – would make for interesting reading.