River Parishes ready to weather any storm

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 1, 2011



LAPLACE – With predictions for 2011 comparable to last year’s incredibly active hurricane season, parish officials in the River Region are on alert and ready for action as the Atlantic hurricane season officially begins today.

Forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say the 2011 hurricane season has the potential to produce anywhere from 12 to 18 named storms with six to 10 of those being hurricanes. Forecasters also say that at least three of those storms could be major hurricanes of category 3 or higher.

With that in mind, emergency officials in St. John, St. James and St. Charles parishes say they are prepared for what could be a season that strongly impacts the region.

St. John Parish President Natalie Robottom said her first priority is making sure that parish residents are ready for the unexpected since there is no forecast that can precisely say when or where a storm may hit this year.

“We want residents to concentrate on things that they can control,” Robottom said. “Create a hurricane plan and review it regularly before disaster strikes. It may be quiet now, but that is no reason to delay preparations.”

Robottom said a recent all-staff meeting concentrated on the parish’s plan in the event of a storm strike. She said her staff discussed the parish’s emergency plan and made sure all essential employees know their roles when the time comes to act on the plan.

“We did a table top exercise with employees and went through a scenario that was as close to the real deal as possible,” Robottom said. “I have confidence in our staff. Many of them know the drill and have been through storms before.”

Robottom added she is not concerned about the fact that the emergency preparedness director position is vacant following the departure of Mike Tregre last month. She said Assistant Director Kathy Gilmore has done a good job filing in as interim director.

“Kathy has been around in the department for a long time and knows what to do,” Robottom said. “Now is not the time to look for a replacement. We need to make sure the staff on hand is ready.”

Robottom said the parish has existing point-to-point shelter agreements with officials in Monroe, as well as Oak Grove, in West Carroll Parish. She said the parish has pre-registered participating residents through the state’s Phoenix Identification Program, which registers and tracks evacuees during all phases of disaster operations.

“We sent employees on Phoenix training last week so they could reacquaint themselves with the system,” Robottom said. “We have had great response from residents regarding registering for the program.”

Robottom said the parish is updating its notification systems to enhance communication with the public. Residents can sign up at www.sjbparish.com /newsletter to receive updates on the status of the parish in response to emergencies. She said notifications and updates will also be posted on the St. John Parish website.

“It is important that we are able to notify the public of updates in a timely manner,” Robottom said. “It is especially important during an emergency that we have the ability to provide residents with accurate and updated information.”

In St. Charles Parish, emergency preparedness officials have been reviewing the parish’s emergency plan and meeting with employees to make sure everyone knows what needs to be done.

St. Charles will also be employing the Phoenix System to register evacuees being sent to shelters in Avoyelles Parish.

In the event of a storm, evacuating residents will board Parish buses and be sent to the shelter.

“Residents must sign up with the parish and depart on the buses in order to participate,” said St. Charles Emergency Preparedness Director Scott Welchel. “Residents who drive up to the shelter will be assisted in finding a place to stay but will not be allowed inside.”

St. Charles Parish Spokeswoman Renee Simpson said the parish courthouse will operate with a 1,250-KW generator that will completely run the building during power outages. She said Public Works is also stockpiling sandbags at more than 30 distribution sites across the parish.

In St. James Parish, assistant Emergency Preparedness Director Francis Hymel said the biggest concern has always been notification to residents of storm-related information. He said the parish successfully instituted a text message-based system last year that informs residents once a storm passes through.

“It gives information on supply distribution points and give the status of water and other parish utilities,” Hymel said. “It was slow going last year, but we have had many sign up for the alerts.”

Hymel said the parish has shelter facilities ready for a category 3 storm.

If anything higher threatens the area, he said the parish would utilize a point-to-point shelter agreement with officials in Tangipahoa Parish and evacuate residents on parish school buses.