County evaluates storm response
Emergency Management Services Director Dave Michael gave a slide presentation and led a discussion of the county’s response to the storm of June 29 that left many residents without power and telephone service for days.
The presentation and discussion was held in the Magistrate Courtroom on Thursday evening, July 19 and was attended by representatives from local fire, EMS and police agencies, Potomac Edison, the Morgan County Commission, Starting Points, concerned citizens and the state’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
Michael said the southern and western areas of the county were most affected
by the storm. The town of Paw Paw lost all power and all land line telephone service.
Out of 9,932 Potomac Edison customers in the county, 6,801 were without power Saturday morning, Michael said.
The 911 center received 126 calls immediately following the storm between the hours of 9 and 11 p.m. The 911 center was up and running on generator power at the time.
Of those calls, most involved fallen trees in roadways. Michael said three or four of the calls were actual emergencies.
The four fire departments in the county traveled the state maintained roads and removed trees from the roadways except in cases where the trees were involved with power lines.
Michael said he immediately requested three Army National Guard health and welfare units to go door to door and check on the welfare of residents. Units of the 157th Military Police from Martinsburg and the 863rd Military Police from Beckley responded.
Eventually, the Army National Guard had eight health and welfare units operating in the county, Michael said.
Eighteen skids of bottled water were ordered by Michael and brought in by tractor trailer. The water was distributed to fire departments, the EMS center, Starting Points and the Presbyterian Church in Paw Paw.
Michaels listed the hospital, nursing homes, EMS infrastructure and public water and sewer as the first priorities for getting power restored.
Utility company response
Charlene Gilliam of Potomac Edison said 60 percent of customers had their power restored by Sunday morning.
Explaining why it took so long to get all power restored in the county, Gilliam said safety was the first concern.
There were workers from 10 operating companies, plus contractors and employees who normally work other jobs out in the field helping out. She said no one was injured due to safety precautions.
Before any power line segment was turned back on, the dispatchers triple checked to make sure workers were clear of the lines, Gilliam said.
She advised everyone to check their bill and make sure their address and contact information is correct. To report loss of power, call 1-888-LIGHTSS, she said.
“Frontier needs to improve their repair rate capability and put generators at all their telephone central offices,” Michael said.
Frontier Communications did not have a representative at the meeting.
Problems, possible solutions
“One of the biggest problems we had was getting the word out to people,” Michael said.
He suggested that a dedicated information telephone line be installed at the EMS center.
“The only way the majority of people in Morgan County can get broad coverage is through the local radio station. That should be added to the list of priorities. The radio station was out for 70 hours,” John Talbot said.
He said the owner of the radio station, Emmet Capper, is looking into buying a generator.
“The bottom line is at times and places there was no electricity, no land line phone, no cell coverage and no internet. That’s why it is so critical to have the radio station on generators. People can get that on battery radios or go out in their car and listen to it,” Sandy Green of the state’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management said.
Robert Young suggested the county invest in redundant telephone service. He suggested a microwave backup system connected line-of-sight from the courthouse to the tower at the old hospital can be installed that would automatically switch over if the telephone lines went out.
Michael said another problem was unloading the 18 skids of water from the tractor trailer. He suggested the county invest in a forklift and find a loading dock facility to use in a disaster situation.
Noting that there are already forklifts in the county, Jeanne Mozier said, “I think probably a better task would be to be able to identify where all the forklifts were if you needed them.”
Michael said the county also needs a secure facility in which to store supplies and a place to house the Army National Guard when they are called on for assistance. He suggested part of the old hospital building might be used.
Michael said the county needs to improve sheltering site capacity. Make the sites ADA (American Disabilities Act) Compliant and provide backup generators for the sites.
He said there are 12 sheltering sites in the county designated by the Red Cross, mostly in schools, fire departments and churches.
In addition, Michael said that all critical infrastructures, water and sewer, radio station, government facilities, 911 center and fueling stations, need to have emergency generators capable of running the entire facility for 72 hours.
Michael said West Virginia needs to mandate that each county hire a full time person to coordinate all the preparation and disaster planning.
Mozier said he should add to his list the state should provide the funding. She said the cost to the county to provide all Michael suggested would run in the millions.
“Morgan County is just lucky that we haven’t had the disasters that the southern one-third of the state had,” Michael said.
He said the county needs every agency to actively participate in the Local Emergency Planning Committee. The meetings are held quarterly on the third Tuesday of the quarter, Michael said.
“We have had a wakeup call here in Morgan County, as far as I am concerned, and unless everyone takes these issues seriously, then we are going to fail to provide adequate response to future disasters of significant size,” Michael said.