OCEAN CITY — Hurricane season is here and after last year’s near-miss with Hurricane Irene, Royal Plus President Matt Odachowski presented local business owners and public officials with tips on how to prepare and respond if a disaster should strike Ocean City.
Odachowski drove this point home by highlighting some of the situations that his company’s “Disaster Kleenup” crews have confronted in the past during an event this week at the Ocean City Marlin Club.
“We don’t want to be in the position as a community that some of these communities have been,” he explained while showing slides of the after-effects of hurricanes.
The slides underlined the level of destruction that such storms are capable of producing and the incredible amount of effort it takes to clean everything up.
“As far as you could see, nothing was standing,” said Odachowski after a slide showing the impacts of Hurricane Andrew.
While the most devastating hurricanes of the last few decades have done the greatest damage to southern states, Odachowski warned that Ocean City is not untouchable.
Though town officials have been criticized by some for ordering the evacuation of Ocean City last year for fear of Irene, Odachowski defended the decision, despite the storm’s minimal damage to the area.
“The town of Ocean City, the local community, they have some tough decisions to make,” he said.
Odachowski pointed out that if Irene had followed its original forecast or come in with a high tide, Ocean City might still be cleaning up a year later.
“[Even] a Category 1 can be devastating,” he said.
Ocean City Emergency Services Director Joe Theobald agreed.
“Irene was a wakeup call,” he said. “We were spared by the grace of God.”
In Theobald’s estimation, the public at large is not prepared for a natural disaster, especially if they live in an infrequently effected area like Ocean City.
“We get upset when we lose cable for three hours,” he joked.
Everyone is part of emergency management and private citizens need to make sure that they rely on themselves instead of fully expecting the government to save them in times of disaster, according to Theobald.
To the audience, the majority of which were private business owners, Theobald advised pre-planning.
“After the fact is not the time,” he said. “This is serious stuff … you have to be serious about it.”
That emphasis on preparation was also the fulcrum of Odachowski’s presentation.
“[It] can happen here. We just have to be careful. We’ve got to pre-plan,” he said.
Odachowski attempted what he referred to as a “shock and awe” approach to get his audience to understand the level of damage and disorder a hurricane can inflict.
“Do you know how hard it is to get around with no street signs, no buildings and no landmarks?” he asked.
After Hurricane Katrina, Odachowski described his experiences with martial law, waiting in lines for hours for a shower, food, water and pretty much everything else.
“Resources become very, very scarce,” he said.
Rioting and looting can become problems after a hurricane as well, especially if the populace was caught off guard, Odachowski added.
“I felt like I was in a third world country,” he said.
Ocean City could find itself in a situation like what hit New Orleans after Katrina, argued Odachowski, unless people in the community have plans in place before a storm lands.
Odachowski went on to say that communication is even more crucial for a business owner who has an entire company to put back together. After a disaster, 43 percent of businesses in the area never re-open, while 23 percent close within a year and 17 percent close within two years, according to statistics supplied by Odachowski.
He told business owners that they need to have everything organized so that everyone in their company knows their responsibility should a hurricane hit Ocean City. This includes designating employees as contacts for the media, fire companies, and emergency services. Businesses that hope to re-open as soon as possible should also look into generators, Odachowski suggested.
Joining an Emergency Response Program (ERP) is another route businesses can take for extra protection. Odachowski highlighted his companies ERP as a way for businesses to quickly recover post-disaster. Signing up for the program is free and allows a business access to a permanently available response hotline, as well as priority cleanup and service from Royal Plus after any disaster.
“If anything happens here, I want our community to recover quickly,” he said.
State Sen. Jim Mathias, who has also been working with Royal Plus since 2005, lent his endorsement to Odachowski.
“This is really where he takes care of first,” he said of Ocean City. “You are extended family.”
To learn more about the Royal Plus ERP, call 1-866-404-7587