Every year from June 1 to Nov. 1, coastal states and adjoining states must be prepared for a land-falling hurricane. In other words, it is not when, but where. I cannot explain it, but North Carolina is in the bull’s-eye every year. I am not counting out Florida or the Gulf Coast, but for the sake of my point, I am going to center in on North Carolina and coastal Virginia. Authorities have made changes and improvements that allow for a rapid and efficient evacuation of coastal areas.
While in Southport, N.C., last week, my wife and I had a conversation with a lady who had lived there 45 years. She told us that she had ridden out many storms, but believed that a land-falling Category 4 or 5 storm would wipe them off the map. She then said something that I have not forgotten. She said, “If I left, where would I go?” We have gotten better at evacuating coastal areas. Shelters are opened in hardest hit localities. I echo that lady’s question. Where will they go once they evacuate? I will be the first one to say that I do not have the answer to this question, but we need to start the conversation.
I remember sitting in training classes as a firefighter, noting the Richmond area as a hub for people evacuating from coastal Virginia. We addressed it from the standpoint of traffic issues and increased EMS responses. I do not know if we have thought about the need for shelters to be opened, in the areas that would be designated as hubs, outside of the impacted areas. I talked with another person who evacuated to Augusta, Ga., from Hurricane Florence. She said that after six days in a hotel, she could not afford to stay any longer. The problem associated with Florence is that it took two weeks for flood waters to recede, roads to be cleared and utilities to be restored so that residents could return to their homes and businesses in the hardest hit areas.
This is going to take a concerted effort of communities that could be considered safe havens. Again, I am just trying to have a conversation that is very one-sided in this article. I believe that a safer evacuation plan would include a destination for people who otherwise have no place to go. Is this a collaborative task for neighboring Emergency Operations Centers? The discussion must occur long before these storms come ashore. I cannot ever think of a time when shelters have been opened in a location where evacuees are headed.
Areas designated as possible safe havens should have a plan for evacuees. I think that this is an issue that authorities have not wanted to touch because of the impact to local resources and budgets. If evacuations are going to be mandated, what responsibility do we have in place to assist our neighbors leaving their homes? This subject reminds me that we also need safe places for people who live in mobile home parks in our area when the forecast includes tornadoes. It is a proven fact that occupants in mobile homes are at the greatest risk in the event of a tornado.
This is something that should be worked out long before the next tornado strikes. Not only do safe places need to be designated, but this needs to be communicated to affected residents. Where will they go?