St. Helena prepares for storm season _lowres

Advocate staff photo by Stephanie Warren -- St. Helena Parish leaders and emergency responders from different agencies prepare for hurricane season during a hurricane kickoff meeting May 20 at the St. Helena Multipurpose Center in Amite.

Hurricane season officially runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, and most emergency services departments finalize hurricane preparedness procedures during May.

To begin planning for the 2015 hurricane season, St. Helena Parish leaders held a hurricane kickoff meeting May 20 at the St. Helena Multipurpose Center in Amite.

Approximately 50 emergency responders from various agencies attended the event.

Kevin Davis, director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, was keynote speaker.

Davis said weather forecasters are predicting an active year with 13 to 20 storms, some to be major hurricanes, he said.

“It could get worse than it has in the last 20 years, and I encourage each department to be ready, and we are here to assist you in any way possible,” he said.

The director discussed the growing importance of social media in communicating with the public during severe weather.

“Social media, text messaging, Facebook and Twitter are effective methods to get critical weather information,” said Davis.

Important information, including tips on how to prepare for a major storm, can be found on the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness website at www.getagameplan.org.

St. Helena Office of Emergency Preparedness Director Rita Allen said hurricane preparations also require the protection of fire stations, headquarters and maintenance shops.

Prior to and during an event, Allen said, each site must be inspected to ensure medical and fuel supplies are sufficient, and emergency and backup systems, such as generators, are operational.

“One reoccurring issue we face with every hurricane is the need to maintain constant communication between dispatch and every deployed emergency apparatus,” Allen said.

To address this concern, an emergency communication plan must be developed and tested during hurricane preparedness exercises, she said.

Each year, as part of hurricane preparations, Allen said, fire and rescue agencies report their resource availability to the state so emergency operations leaders know which resources are available to deploy should a hurricane strike the state.

The lessons St. Helena Parish has learned over the years, Allen said, have led to many improvements in hurricane response and pre-planning.

“In addition to preparing your department for hurricanes and other major storms, you should also reach out to your community to encourage citizens to prepare,” said Allen.