Planning Ahead Key As Hurricane Season Begins

OCEAN CITY – With hurricane season underway, it is important to communicate and plan ahead, reported the resort’s Emergency Services Director this week, as he briefed the Mayor and Council on hurricane preparedness issues for the 2008 hurricane season.

Emergency Services Director Joe Theobald addressed the issue of hurricane awareness in Ocean City at Monday night’s meeting, outlining 2008 initiatives and emphasizing the importance of planning ahead.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is calling for an above average hurricane season for 2008, predicting a 60 to 70 percent chance of 12 to 16 named storms, including seven to nine hurricanes and two to five major hurricanes.

While the NOAA predications set the stage for an active hurricane season, there is no way of predicting when or where, or even if, a hurricane will make landfall, making preparation a valuable tool against the big storms.

“The truth is, I’m not concerned about numbers,” said Theobald, adding that the focus should be on where a hurricane hits and how it will affect the resort.

While Ocean City has been spared from a major hurricane in recent years, Theobald noted that it was only a matter of time before a major storm struck.

“Normally people do not prepare until something strikes them in the face for the first time,” said Theobald. “The key is getting out to the community.”

Theobald outlined some new areas of focus of 2008. Foreign students are being included in the master evacuation plan, a sector of the population that adds a unique element to the town’s original evacuation plan.

Typically, the town’s evacuation plan calls for all visitors or tourists to return to their hometowns, i.e. pack up and head back to Baltimore, D.C, Pennsylvania, and so forth. Foreign students would be hard pressed to catch a quick flight back to their respective home countries however, leaving thousands of the summer workers left with no place to go.

As a result, Emergency Services will be working, in conjunction with the Seasonal Workforce Committee, to implement an effective evacuation plan for the 3,000 to 5,000 seasonal workers.

The town’s special needs population will also be a focus of the evacuation plan, said Theobald, noting up to 250 individuals identified who may need assistance in the event of an evacuation.

The Emergency Operations Plan is currently undergoing a comprehensive review, reported Theobald, explaining that the timetable on town evacuation is in need of revision.

A three-day exercise on evacuation, performed by the state and FEMA, was held successfully in May said Theobald. All equipment was tested and software was updated as well.

An alerting device, designed for tsunamis, but available for all emergencies, as well as an AM alert radio station, are future possibilities for the town’s emergency services.

“We want to make sure we do everything we can do,” said Theobald.

Theobald pointed out that successful preparation and evacuation includes coordination not only within the town, but with the county and surrounding region as well. “Our biggest challenge is the population growth of the region,” he said.

Mayor Rick Meehan agreed that communication with the county is key.

“There’s a lot of things we need to do to coordinate with the county,” he said.

While the town’s evacuation plan is constantly undergoing revisions and updates, Theobald assured the Mayor and Council that an effective plan is in place.

“We have a workable plan in place if we need it tomorrow,” he said.

Theobald concluded that having a personal evacuation plan is imperative, urging citizens to plan ahead, and secure a place to go in the event of an evacuation. “The shelter is the last place you want to be,” he said.