Apathy toward hurricanes could be public’s downfall
by Bill Clough
Jul 29, 2013 | 1740 views | 1 1 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
BEEVILLE – Robert Bridge’s first hurricane season is almost two months old and while there are no storms on the radar, he’s still worried.

Public apathy about hurricanes gets worse each year, he says.

Because Beeville is inland, it’s easy to think it is out of harm’s way.

But at its closest point, the Gulf of Mexico is 57 miles away – a distance easily negated by the size of substantial hurricanes.

“I need to do my part in keeping people aware of the potential for a hurricane to occur,” he says. “We don’t need a storm out in the Gulf before people start being prepared,”

Bridge is adamant that Beeville residents should:

•Pick up a copy of an annual hurricane preparedness booklet published by Corpus Christi television station KIII, available at numerous locations including his office and at Walmart.

“I will give one of those to anyone who will hold still long enough,” he says. “It is very informative.”

•Go online to register with Blackboard Connect – a mass notification system – to receive phone calls and text messages in the event of an emergency, such as the approach of a hurricane.

•People with special needs should register with 211 so they can be evacuated in the case of an emergency – such as the approach of a hurricane. “It’s easy to do,” he says. “Just dial 211 and follow the instructions – and they’re available in both English and Spanish.”

Since he took over the job of Bee County emergency management coordinator last October, he has resurrected the inactive Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) — consisting of about 15 representatives from industry, law enforcement, fire department, ambulance and amateur radio operators – charged with formulating plans for any emergency ranging from hazardous spills to hurricanes.

State regulations specify the LEPC must meet every quarter; the local LEPC meets monthly.

July’s meeting was to include a tour of the Pioneer facility in Pawnee.

Bridge says his Emergency Operations Center is as ready as it can be for a hurricane.

The building, the Bee County Justice Center, Bridge says, has a safe room that is rated to withstand the winds of a Category 4 storm.

In the event of a storm, County Judge David Silva would activate the EOC, gathering around him the Beeville mayor, the city manager, finance and tax office personnel and Bridge who, in an emergency, represents both the county and the city.

“What is important is that we are not taking lightly the idea of a hurricane,” he says.

Bridge describes Beeville as a “pass-through” community, meaning those evacuating the coast do not use the city as a destination. Hence, the shelter facilities here are limited.

“We have identified three facilities we could use, and we are working on two more,” he says. “But they are to be used only in a case of emergency, such as a hurricane or a tornado. I don’t want Beeville citizens to think they can go there as a storm approaches because they will be taken care of. That’s not what these shelters are for.”

Bridge says the shelters would be used if a tornado left five or six families homeless. “Then we would activate them so they would have someplace to go, but not until then.”

He has visited numerous facilities to review their emergency plans, including Christus Spohn Hospital.

Those plans not only deal with a hurricane but other hazards as well.

At the EOC, “we don’t have a hurricane plan. We don’t have a tornado plan. We don’t have a flood plan. It is general enough to be able to apply it to a variety of situations,” he says.

Bridge stresses the need for people to sign up to Blackboard Connect. A link is available on the county’s website.

He estimates between 8,000 and 9,000 Beeville residents have registered. “I want to double that. I can’t get enough people to sign up,” he says.

Acknowledging that cellphone and Internet connections are fragile during hurricane-force winds, the EOC can rely on amateur radio operators to send and receive email.

The ability to send text is vital, Bridge says, because any request from a city or county to the state for assistance must be in written form.

His immediate need? Getting people to sign up with Blackboard Connect.

“I want to be able to reach out and touch everyone.”

Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.
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July 29, 2013
I was going to read the article, but when I saw how long it was I realized that I don't care.