Resort Mayor Reflects On Florence Miss, Early Preparations

OCEAN CITY — After another threat of a major storm and another miss for Ocean City, Mayor Rick Meehan was in a decidedly reflective mood this week when discussing the town’s preparations for Hurricane Florence last week.

Early last week, the path of Hurricane Florence was largely uncertain, setting in motion a series of emergency protocols in the Town of Ocean City. Florence took a major turn to the south and the immediate threat to Ocean City and Delmarva was quickly diminished, but Meehan said on Monday there were times early last week when city officials were planning for the worst.

“You are all aware of the weather situation we were faced with and the pending storm that was coming up the Atlantic,” he said. “When the early statements came out, we were in the path, maybe not to the extent some of our neighbors to the south were, but we were in the cone.”

With the various possible storm tracks forecasted, Ocean City officials set in motion emergency protocols and made some quick decisions, including moving most of the OC BikeFest events indoors at the convention center. The storm moved south and the impacts to the resort area were diminished, but Meehan said the town was prepared for any eventuality.

“We followed the storm very, very closely and we followed our emergency operation plan, but we never had to activate it,” he said. “We were certainly prepared to take the next step, get everybody into the emergency operations centers and make the appropriate decisions. As the storm took a turn to the south, that became something that wasn’t necessary thank God.”

For several reasons, many related to geophysical dynamics and some just related to good luck, Ocean City has often been spared the direct hit from major storms such as Florence, but the impact of the storm on the Carolinas and other areas was not lost on Meehan.

“What I do think about as I’ve watched the news over the last few days is how easily that could have happened to us,” he said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with everybody in North Carolina and South Carolina and many others that were affected and are still being affected by the continuing and lingering effects of Hurricane Florence.”

Meehan said the impact of Hurricane Florence on Ocean City’s coastal neighbors to the south hammered home the importance of careful planning and preparation.

“It’s also a good message when you watched this storm, or just in life itself, about the importance of being prepared and heeding the directions of the emergency responders and people who make those kinds of decisions,” he said. “The governors of North Carolina and South Carolina took all the right actions and all of the right calls in telling people to get out of those areas.”

Meehan also took the opportunity to remind residents and visitors to carefully monitor pending storms and follow the directions of the emergency response teams.

“As you see now, so many of the people that didn’t go now have first responders that are doing the right thing and going in to assist them,” he said. “Those first responders and other resources could have been better utilized if they had heeded the message and left when asked.”

Meehan said the situation unfolding all week in the Carolinas should serve as a reminder of the importance of following recommendations and orders.

“It’s just a good lesson,” he said. “We always think we can ride it out, but as they say, you can run from wind but you can’t run from water. That’s true and many of the things we’re seeing today, I don’t think they ever imagined the water as high as it is in some of those areas. We were very fortunate this time, but let’s keep in mind why we need to be prepared and what could have happened and what we need to do when it does happen in our community.”

Meehan also promised Ocean City would assist the storm-ravaged communities if called upon to do so.

“I’m sure they are in for a long duration of recovery and I’m sure we’re going to assist them when we can,” he said. “They’re going to be in need of assistance for quite a while, not just for the next week or two, and I’m sure we’re going to be looking at ways to help them.”

The mayor said decisions were made early on about the tents at the Inlet lot, which were already in place for both OC BikeFest and Sunfest, which got underway on Thursday.

“We were also able, with the help and collaboration of our department heads, to keep the tents up for Sunfest,” he said. “We didn’t have to drop the tents and those decisions were based on the wind loads those tents can withstand. Because of that, we are able to move forward with Sunfest, so things worked in favor in that regard.”

Just the threat of Florence curtailed attendance numbers for bike week, according to the mayor.

“Certainly, the numbers were down,” he said. “People decided to do the right thing and not come down maybe because of the pending storm. I think we took the right precautions and we were ready and prepared.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

Alternative Text

Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.