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Preparedness makes for calm Isaac response

Particularly since Hurricane Katrina, emergency response officials have preached preparedness when threatening weather is on the horizon.

     Zoom forward seven years from that 2005 natural disaster, and it appears that message was heeded by citizens and emergency responders alike last week as Hurricane Isaac formed in the Gulf of Mexico.

     While the storm was deciding where to make landfall, first in the Florida panhandle before gradually moving westward, citizens took the opportunity as early as last weekend to stock up on things they might need should power and other utilities go out for an extended period. The basics of bread, batteries and water went quickly from grocery stores’ shelves.

     In another blessed departure from Katrina, motorists filled up on fuel ahead of time and there were only a few instances where stations ran out of gas. One local official described the fuel-up situation as “medium,” with gas lines periodically forming and then ending.

     Many residents will remember the aftermath of Katrina when rumors and reports of gas availability sent people scurrying across town in search of it. A constant in those days was the long lines of hopeful motorists waiting to reach the pump.

     Meanwhile last week, in a repeat of their response to Katrina, local officials began meeting on Monday for daily updates on where Isaac would land and what he would mean to Southwest Mississippi, specifically Lincoln County. The predictions rightly had a “prepare for the worst” tone, all the while everyone was “hoping for the best.”

     That Isaac took his slow, sweet time coming ashore further allowed emergency officials and, perhaps more importantly, utility companies to marshal their forces for whatever response would be needed. Staging areas for utility vehicles and crews were determined and plans for water and ice distribution, which went into effect Friday, were made well ahead of time.

     One area where response remains somewhat lacking, though, is in school closure decisions.

     While school officials did an admirable job of notifying local media and utilizing social media to get the word out about their decisions regarding classes, some may argue those decisions were a little late in coming. Most days, they were not made until around 6 p.m. for the next day’s schedule.

     With some working parents needing to make alternate arrangements for their younger children, making a decision so late could put them in a bind. Furthermore, for at least two days, the delay in deciding appeared unnecessary.

     Certainly, the most up to date information is needed to make any decision, which is why early dismissal Tuesday and no classes on Friday determinations were justified. However, given that Isaac had made landfall Tuesday night and considering the wind and rainfall estimates for Wednesday and Thursday, class decisions for those two days could have been made well in advance.

     After all, when it comes to the safety of children, it is better to err on the side of caution and keep children at home with their families. One or two school days can be made up later by having students come on previously scheduled off-days, such as staff development days or some holiday.

     Of course, no response to any disaster is perfect. Any of those still without power today may grumble that the lights should be on by now, and some who sustained damage to their homes this year may rank Isaac as worse than Katrina.

     Overall, though, emergency management; city and county law enforcement; city firefighters and county volunteer firefighters; city and county road crews; and utility company servicemen, including many from out of state, deserve appreciation for their well-planned and quick response to Isaac – as do members of the public at large for being ready and staying calm in the face of the storm.

     Appreciation also should be extended to area retailers that hurried to restock necessary items, including generators, as supplies were bought out during the storm and its aftermath.

     Learning lessons from the past made the present emergency much easier to bear for all.