Hurricane

MEMA chief worries Coast residents will develop ‘hurricane amnesia’

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Executive Director Lee Smithson speaks during a press conference on Thursday, June 1, 2017, about the upcoming 2017 hurricane season. Hurricane season started on Thursday.
Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Executive Director Lee Smithson speaks during a press conference on Thursday, June 1, 2017, about the upcoming 2017 hurricane season. Hurricane season started on Thursday. amccoy@sunherald.com

Complacency could be a killer this hurricane season.

Officials worry that longtime Coast residents, who haven’t been hit by a big storm since Hurricane Katrina, could drop their guard.

“Unfortunately, history shows us we’re overdue for a tropical system impacting the Mississippi Gulf Coast this year,” Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Executive Director Lee Smithson said at the annual hurricane preparedness press conference. “It’s been five years since Hurricane Isaac, nine years since Gustav and 12 years since Hurricane Katrina.

“My greatest fear going into this hurricane season is hurricane amnesia and a sense of complacency. It’s been so long since our Coast has been impacted that people begin to forget what it takes to be prepared.”

That was a recurring theme, as official after official from agency after agency stressed that now is the time to prepare.

“Dust off that plan,” said Harrison County Emergency Management Director Rupert Lacy. “Work your plan with your family. Exercise your plan. When we get that short-notice storm, you’ll be prepared.”

Officials said you need to know what evacuation zone you are in, where you will go if you evacuate, what essentials you will take with you, what you’ll do with your pets and how you’ll communicate with friends and family.

Social media will make communication better both for families and for emergency officials, said Smithson. And during lean budget years, he said, technology has helped his staff operate more efficiently.

Smithson said he hired a young person well-versed in the ways of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. And he’s assembled a cadre of 400 reserves, who respond to counties affected by disasters. They, like National Guardsmen, are paid for the days they work but aren’t full-time staff.

Weather technology is improving, too, said Ken Graham of the National Weather Service in Slidell. Its hurricane forecast will now include storm surge and warnings.

And, hotels and motels are more pet-friendly than they were in 2005.

So, everyone at the press conference agreed, there is no reason to stay behind endangering yourself and the first responders who could be called to rescue you.

“If you’re told to evacuate, evacuate,” said Southern District Transportation Commissioner Tom King. “Don’t hesitate, evacuate. Be ready.”

Paul Hampton: 228-284-7296, @JPaulHampton

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