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Disaster Planning: Been There-Didn't Do That- Mississippians Look Back and Learn

From: FEMA   Filed 11/1/06

Mississippians have been Monday morning quarterbacking about what they didn't do in preparing for Hurricane Katrina. But hindsight can be a worthy teacher when it comes to drawing up a better game plan for another major storm-or any disaster that could strike the Gulf Coast.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) encourage Mississippians to develop a plan with the lessons of Katrina in mind and to keep it and disaster supplies on hand year round.

"Good disaster planning takes into account not only weather but other emergencies that could occur anytime," said Mike Womack interim director of MEMA. "It's a form of defense against man-made and natural disasters."

Several Mississippians were asked recently what they learned from Katrina in preparing for another storm or severe weather event.

The Imperial Palace (IP) Hotel on the bay in D'Iberville, just north of Biloxi , was an oasis of safety after the storm hit. "All guests left but we had about 130 employees and their families there during the storm," said J.R. McLendon, IP security chief when Katrina hit. "The hotel kept about $7,500 on hand for operating expenses but there were two problems," said McLendon. "More than 10 feet of water reached the drawer the cash was in. So, we had to wade through the lobby to retrieve it�and it was contaminated. The other issue is it wasn't enough to keep us going the three plus weeks we holed up there." He strongly recommends businesses place cash in a high and dry place to avoid being flooded and to have enough on hand for three weeks, not three days. The hotel bought fuel, flashlights and water for its employees and then hosted more than 150 FEMA workers deployed to help out in the storm's aftermath.

Gautier resident Jim Foster lives on a bayou so he's been mindful of what a storm could do. "I always had a plan," Foster said. "Until Katrina, it had been tucked away in my mind." As the storm approached, Foster gathered belongings as he prepared to evacuate. "Packing would have been easier if I had written down ahead of time what was to be taken; I forgot a few important items," Foster said. "Also, it would have been easier if I had made sure the original evacuation route planned was still an option. The route chosen to get onto the interstate was closed. I had to find another way."

Biloxi's Edgewater Mall, just yards from the Gulf on the north side of US 90, was inundated with 24 inches of storm surge. "The center was entirely boarded and prepared the best it could be," said Terry Powell, mall manager. "But one thing we would have done differently is establish a staging area offsite for fuel." Though other supplies were stored away from the mall, fuel for its security patrol cars was not. Cars were needed to help prevent looting, but looting never took place.

Donna Williams and family of D'Iberville didn't leave soon enough before Katrina but were able to find a safe haven at Biloxi Regional Hospital near the beach where her aunt was under care. Windows were blown out of the hospital's higher floors. Patients were moved into hallways and to the first level where Williams and family helped comfort them. "Next time we'll evacuate to Georgia ," said Williams. "To make sure we'll be able to travel when a storm approaches, we established a storm stash." Each month her family puts money into an account to pay for evacuation or for other disaster-related exigencies.

"Last year's storm was a worst-case scenario," said Nick Russo, federal coordinating officer for the Mississippi disaster. "Being prepared for the worst and staying prepared all year is what disaster planning is all about."

For disaster planning tips, visit www.ready.gov or www.msema.org .

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