Despite Earl’s Near Miss, OC Was Prepared

OCEAN CITY – After days of intense hype, Hurricane Earl breezed by Ocean City nearly unnoticed last Friday, but much was going on behind the scenes to ensure the resort was prepared for the first major storm of the late summer and fall season.

At start of the regular City Council meeting on Tuesday, Mayor Rick Meehan read a proclamation designating September as National Preparedness Month in the resort. Ironically, the proclamation was made just days after Ocean City had its first real brush with a significant tropical storm on a holiday weekend and Meehan took the opportunity to relate how the town was proactive in salvaging a successful Labor Day weekend.

“Ocean City and the entire east coast was very fortunate,” he said. “We sent out a responsible message. We told people to be careful and told them to come back when it was over and they really did. That’s exactly the message we put out there and it really happened.”

Ocean City Emergency Management Director Joe Theobald told the council and those in attendance how the town mobilized its storm preparation plans in the days and hours leading up to Earl’s arrival. Theobald said the storm passing harmlessly well off the coast, the threat provided the town’s emergency plan with an opportunity for a shakedown cruise of sorts.

“We ended up with just a glancing blow, but we were prepared,” he said. “We had a plan in place and got out the message for people to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

Theobald said the lessons learned in ramp up to Earl’s arrival would serve the town well when the next big storm sets its sights on Ocean City.

“We’ll be ready in the future,” he said. “It’s not if, but when something worse than Earl comes along.”

Later in the week, at the resort’s Economic Development Committee (EDC) meeting on Wednesday, Ocean City Chamber of Commerce executive director Melanie Pursel explained preparations of a different sort going on in the lead-up to the storm’s arrival.

“Ironically, the seasonal workforce committee had a dry run for the evacuation plan for foreign students about two weeks ago,” she said. “The plan is to get them out first. Luckily, we didn’t need to implement any of the plans, but we were ready.”

Meehan told EDC members town officials hammered home the message storm was fast-moving and encouraged potential holiday weekend visitors to wait it out and not change their vacation plans.

“We were under some serious challenges last week,” he said. “The town of Ocean City has a plan in place and we were prepared. We sent out a responsible message. Don’t cancel your holiday weekend plans, just use a little common sense and wait for the storm to pass.”

Meehan said there were some concerns over losing the holiday weekend entirely because of the threat of the storm. He said the fear, from a business standpoint, was that many would cancel their travel plans to the beach and find themselves at home on a picture-perfect weekend a day later. However, the mayor said the early numbers indicate that wasn’t the case.

“The demoflush numbers bear it out, and while we don’t always know how reliable those are, at least it’s comparing apples to apples each year,” he said. “The numbers show there were 268,000 people in town last weekend compared to 262,000 on Labor Day weekend last year. In this economy, and with a Category 4 storm bearing down on us, that is unbelievable.”