Civil Defense Prepares For Hurricane Season

It's an ominous scenario.

A category four hurricane heads for the Gulf Coast near the mouth of the Pearl River. New Orleans braces for an expected storm surge of 25 feet. The Mississippi Gulf Coast prepares for the worst.

Emergency officials used that outline for Wednesday's hurricane preparedness drill.

The only thing missing perhaps was the tension. Other than that, civil defense officials tried to make this scenario as close to the real thing as possible.

Hurricane Jennifer's impending arrival tested emergency plans and personnel.

"The hurricane packs winds of 150 miles an hour with gusts exceeding 190 miles an hour," said Civil Defense Director Linda Rouse, as she briefed emergency workers.

Hurricane Jennifer tests the readiness of Harrison County's Emergency Operations Center. Like the real thing, this mock storm keeps the phones ringing and questions coming.

"This is W5DJW. Do we have any more check ins for the net?"

Don Ward helps organize amateur radio operators. They can provide a communications lifeline.

"Primarily a back up. A lot of people misconceive and they think that cell phones will work real well. But the satellite rigs won't work at all with the storm in the area covering up the satellites and cell phones are probably one of the first things that will go down," Ward said.

As the storm approaches, activity increases. Civil Defense director Linda Rouse oversees the operation. The drills are good rehearsals.

"I think it just shows our strong points as well as our shortfalls," Rouse said. "It gives us an opportunity to work on those shortfalls and increase our efficiency."

This exercise includes a pep talk from the governor.

"And the better prepared we are and the better we're able to respond, the quicker that we can remove those lines of tension on peoples faces and bring back some normalcy into their lives," said Governor Ronnie Musgrove as he addressed the emergency workers.

Hurricane drills also offer assurance that disaster planning works.

Robert Latham is the director of MEMA, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

"We know that our plans are good. But every time that we do a drill, every time we go through a real event, we learn something. That enables us to adjust those plans to make them better," said Latham.

Those involved in the drill answered all sorts of phone call concerns.

While most of the mock calls involved questions about shelters or flooding, one woman wanted sheriffs deputies to respond because some cows had broken loose and were threatening to trample her garden.