When disaster strikes, and it will, be prepared

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - When the next big storm strikes the coast, first responders, volunteers and others will be much better prepared to deal with the aftermath. That's because FEMA is conducting a conference in Ocean Springs this week dealing with emergency response in times of disaster.

Participants came with pens and paper in hand, taking down notes about dealing hurricanes, before, during, and after the storm. Sessions covered numerous topics from public policy, dealing with the media, and maintaining civil control.

Ray Chevalier with FEMA is the course manager. He said the information covered can mean the difference between life and death.

"We're really just providing a forum so they can practice their emergency plans, policies and procedures," Chevalier said. "Throughout the four days, 50 percent of the time somebody will be presenting materials on some emergency discipline."

The attendees are made up of more than just your typical emergency responders.

"We're students with Tulane University's School of Homeland Security Studies program," Constance Fero said. "We're trying to expand our knowledge of the programs offered on the coast and how the different organizations on the coast work in emergency situations."

One of the most important aspects of the conference over the next four days is something that was sorely lacking in the days after Katrina. That is the importance of stable and solid communications.

"Communication is really super important, no matter when it is," Gautier Fire Chief Ray Frair said. "There are a lot of things that have taken place across the county, down here across the coast areas, that we hope in the future here that we won't have the kind of problems that we had during Katrina. We actually lost a lot of the communication systems."

And preparing for, and overcoming losses during a disaster will lead to a quicker and better recovery.

More than three dozen people are signed up for the conference, which is being held at the Ocean Springs Civic Center. Everything wraps up Thursday evening.

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