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Feds limit use of local FEMA building

Though some residents assumed the FEMA shelter in Brookhaven could be used as a severe weather shelter, Lincoln County Civil Defense Director Clifford Galey made it clear that’s not the case.

Galey told the Board of Aldermen this week that the facility can only be used as a storm shelter when an order comes from state or federal officials.

“It is designed to house evacuees from a major disaster event when evacuations are ordered by their local jurisdictions,” Galey said. “The request to open the shelter would come from the state of Mississippi through MEMA or the federal government.”

Galey said in an event the shelter is needed, it would be opened and operated by the Red Cross under the direction of the Emergency Management Office and the Department of Human Services for up to 36 hours.

The shelter was constructed largely with federal funds, with the idea of providing temporary housing for evacuees fleeing the coast.

It’s easy to understand why residents assumed it could also serve as a severe weather shelter for locals. When the city first began considering the construction of the facility in 2009, officials talked about its use as a severe weather shelter.

“I can’t understand the benefit of a 36-hour storm building myself,” then-Mayor Les Bumgarner said. “If a tornado hits, you could get hit by it going to the shelter. And if your house gets demolished, you still could only stay there 36 hours.”

“Could it be used locally, for instance if there’s a tornado, or when we have to evacuate nursing homes, where do they go?” Shirley Estes asked at the time.

At some point, federal officials made it clear how the shelter would be used. When the federal government uses its money to construct a building, you can bet it will dictate how it’s operated.

But it’s a shame the shelter can’t be opened by local officials during severe weather — Copiah County’s shelter is often opened for locals when a storm approaches. Having a secure place to go when severe weather strikes can potentially save lives. With the advances in storm tracking, forecasters can often warn an area of an approaching storm hours before it hits, meaning people sometimes have plenty of time to seek shelter.