Local News

Katrina Leads N.C. Officials To Reconsider Disaster Response Plans

Posted September 6, 2005

— Inside Johnston County's new 911 center, state-of-the-art equipment lights up the room. Jason Barbour, the director of the center, is proud, but he's not naive.

"Will you ever be prepared?" Barbour asked.

"The answer is always no," he added, "because you don't know what card Mother Nature is going to deal you until it's happened."

For this reason, Hurricane Katrina has led authorities in Johnston County to re-write their evacuation playbook.

Before Katrina, the target goal was to evacuate 25 percent of the county.

"We here in Johnston County are having to go back and re-evaluate our evacuation proceedings for a total evacuation of Johnston County, which was something we never thought we would have to do," Barbour said. "But now, we think that is a real possibility."

Why? Because communication may be the biggest obstacle hindering emergency responses in the Gulf Coast, officials said.

Most police, fire and rescue agencies operate on different radio frequencies. That means, when every second is critical, the people on the frontlines may not able to talk to each other.

Bryan Beatty, the N.C. Secretary of Crime Control and Public Safety, said communication probably has been a big problem in New Orleans.

"For example, if you have helicopters looking for survivors on the roof and you have people in the boats who can't see what the people in the helicopter see and they can't tell the people in the boats where to go, then you've wasted time and possibly lives," Beatty said.

WRAL also spoke to the mayor of Wilmington, Spence Broadhurst. Broadhurst said that Hurricane Katrina is giving emergency officials on the coast something to think about, but there are no plans right now to revamp the current evacuation strategy.

And despite the communication concerns, emergency leaders said the state is prepared as much as possible to handle a major hurricane.

It was a lesson, officials said, North Carolina learned long before Hurricane Katrina.

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