County still has a ways to go to be ready for hurricane season

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By Alice Du Pont

Learning from past disasters and adjusting for the future was the lesson learned for local emergency management agencies.

"We learned a lot from Tropical Storm Fay. What to do with all of the debris is a prime example of one of the lessons we learned," said Maj. Shawn Wood, director of Gadsden County Emergency Management Services Department.

Wood, along with representatives from the Quincy, Havana and Greensboro police departments, and the county’s health, public works and emergency medical services departments, gathered March 12 to assess the county's readiness in case of a major weather episode.

"We need to be better prepared," Wood said. Wood said his office is still working on communications and progress has been made during the past year. A new command center has been established in the basement of the Gadsden County Sheriff's Office, where an area will be specifically dedicated to those people in contact with statewide emergency offices. The information, Wood said, will be easily channeled to where it is needed.

Agencies that will be set up in the command center will include GCSO and other law enforcement agencies, TDS telephone services, Federal Emergency Management Agency and the county’s public works, emergency medical services and emergency management departments.

Tropical Storm Fay also taught Wood that the disposition of calls should be documented. Wood said once a call has been cleared, there should be a way to track what happened, who handled the call and the outcome. The major said a system is already in place to document information.

Another need discussed was funding to help train responders. Volunteer firefighters currently need 160 hours of training but after June 1 (the start of hurricane season) the state will require 220 hours.

Firefighters also need training in first response, hazardous materials and several other programs in order for the county to qualify for various grants.

"This meeting was a needs assessment meeting to develop and evaluate ways to meet some of the needs of our county. This is the first of several meetings we have planned," Wood said.