County’s Emergency Operations Center preps for disaster

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — As coastal residents wait to see what might be behind the remnants of Tropical Depression Two off the coast of Africa, Emergency Operations Coordinator Brian Nolan deals with the potential of disaster every day.Nolan and Emergency Management Planner Etta LoPresti will be the face of the County’s Emergency Operations Center on the Tropical Update broadcasts, if and when those are necessary. The focus will be much different from what residents grew accustomed to under EOC Director Nate McCollum. Back in the sudio at the old headquarters, which was severely damaged when the roof caved in during Hurricane Wilma, McCollum televised daily reports complete with weather maps and detailed meteorological information, as well as details on precautionary measures residents should take.”They can get all that hype off the Weather Channel or from the experts,” Nolan said. “What they can get from us is what is out there in the Atlantic, how it will affect Indian River County.”From a room in the bunker that is the new EOC headquarters, Nolan and LoPresti will be co-hosting the Tropical Update out of a combination studio and press briefing room just a window away from the control center. They intend to co-anchor the broadcasts in the style of a conversation to impart information.”We want to take the edge off the panic and present the information in a relaxed and casual way,” Nolan said.LoPresti said the information put out by the EOC will be targeted toward protective action such as putting up shutters, evacuations, stocking up on food, water, batteries and supplies.”We will talk about what I need to do, when I need to do it and how I need to do it,” LoPresti said.On a day-to-day basis, the EOC receives briefings from various agencies about not only tropical activity, but also forest fires, security alerts and hazardous materials spills. About 25 people work in the building, planning shelter and evaculation logistics and coordinating an extensive offering of training and meetings for the County’s first responders. The actual EOC inner sactum is used as a classroom for this training and for workshops relating to public health and other public safety issues.If a storm approaches the point where it is about 72 hours out from Indian River County, Nolan and LoPresti will begin press briefings at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., with public broadcasts to follow. When a storm is about 24 hours away, the EOC ramps up and about 100 people are comandeered to staff the center in 12-hour shifts from all the partnering agencies. When weather gets bad enough, they are locked in.Before that kind of situation hits, LoPresti is working to get everyone who qualifies for a special needs shelter to pre-register so things will run smoothly in the event of a storm. She said the County has made great strides with getting people into the special needs shelters because now the Humane Society will take their pets during the storm. The special needs shelter at Treasure Coast Elementary School can provide nursing care, oxygen and can help with the administration of medications for people not sick enough to need to be in the hospital but who could would not be in great shape if stuck in their homes without power and water.”A lot of people, especially older people would not evacuate to a special needs sheleter when they needed to because they wouldn’t leave their pets,” she said. “We’ve had a lot more people show up now that they know their pets can be taken care of.”A shelter where the general public can bring their pets is in the works and will be available in the fall of 2010.All the information about hurricane preparedness, evacuation routes and shelters can be found in  the publication “Disaster Preparedness for Indian River County: Planning, Response, Recovery, Mitigation” which can be picked up at libraries, the County Administration Building or downloaded from the County’s Web site www.ircgov.com.

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