February 10, 2011

Being Prepared Pays Off for Emergency Service Providers

Weather forecasters can earn a bad rap when they are wrong. Last week, they likely were not receiving any praise for being correct, as blizzard predictions came to fruition in Scotland County. Emergency Management Director Bryan Whitney was one of those people that was happy to have the advance warning, as he credited the county's preparedness as the main reason the region escaped the storm without any major incidents. "It is tough to say that you were ready for a record storm like that," Whitney said. "But we were about as prepared as you can be heading into something like that." Emergency service providers such as the hospital, fire department, and ambulance service were busy on Monday with efforts to ensure they would be able to serve the community throughout the blizzard. The volunteer firemen spent Monday evening installing tire chains on the fire trucks as well as treating the pumps with antifreeze to insure functionality in case of an emergency during the storm. The fire station itself was turned into a shelter in case of power outages. The Red Cross trailer, with materials to aid in housing up to 50 displaced residents, was on standby at the hospital. Law enforcement officers from the city and the county used the fire station for overnight housing to insure they would be able to respond to any calls. In addition to the standard EMS services, Whitney reported that the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Red Cross, The Missouri National Guard, Scotland County Health Department and Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services also were involved in preparations for the storm. "One of the biggest concerns was a power outage that might cause loss of heating," Whitney said. "We tried to be ready with resources to be able to get to people that were stranded, and have somewhere we could take them until their homes were restored." But even with all of the preparations in place, Whitney said the storm definitely taxed the plans. "If we would have experienced a big power outage, it would have been very tough for us to get to all of the people," he said. Plans were in place to use county road equipment to run in front of responding EMS vehicles to clear a path. The sheriff's department and ambulance services also had private snowmobile owners on standby in case their services were needed to reach a patient or to extract stranded motorists or homeowners. The National Guard also was available to assist EMS efforts in going door-to-door to check on residents if necessary. "Fortunately we didn't have to use any of this," Whitney said. "There were no power outages reported. We had zero fire calls or ambulance calls. At no time was the sheriff's office's call log ever backed up. People stayed so we were not swamped with unnecessary calls." The bulk of the EMS efforts were made responding to stranded motorists on Tuesday afternoon. An unofficial snow emergency was declared, meaning law enforcement officers rescued the motorists but asked that no efforts be made to remove the vehicle until after the storm.

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