Dothan/Houston Country EMA Director
At the Dothan/Houston County EMA, our goal is to make sure the citizens of the City, County and surrounding areas are safe in the event of an emergency. Last year was a quiet hurricane season…. We cannot assume that this year will be the same.
After the 2005 hurricane season that brought us Dennis, Katrina, and Rita, our Emergency Operations Plan was expanded to coincide with the National Response Plan. That plan is a detailed guide which helps our Emergency Operations Center to function during hurricanes events.
And there have been other changes. The Dothan City Commissioners and Houston County Commissioners partnered to add 7 additional sirens to the 22 that were installed July 2004. Our community now has 32 outdoor warning sirens including the ones at Farley, Ashford, Gordon, and Columbia. Outdoor warning sirens are intended for just that … people who are outdoors. They are not the best line of defense inside your house. You need a system to alert you inside your home when severe weather threatens and the best thing for that is a NOAA Weather Radio. It could save your life.
Other changes this year: Through FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security has added two new programs through a state of the art pilot project. These will allow us to receive warnings and other vital information more quickly and notify the public and emergency responders of this critical information in disaster and emergency situations.
While our main form of public communication will continue to be the local paper and television and radio stations, we now have programs set up to distribute severe weather information via cellular phones, landline phones, text messaging or fax. If you would like to sign up to get weather alerts that way, you can call the Dothan/Houston County EMA office at (334) 794-9720. You will be asked to provide contact information such as phone number, cellular provider, etc. You will also need to go to www.mystateusa.com and enter your information on the Alert Signup form there. This will allow you to receive both the automated alerts as well as alerts the local EMA office sends out.
Signing up for this service takes but a “matter of seconds.” Knowing what to do before severe weather strikes is the key. Invest in a small amount of time now, before severe weather strikes to learn what to do and how to protect yourself and your family. Prepare your home, have an evacuation plan and stockpile the necessary hurricane supplies.
As we saw in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina….Every one of our citizens needs to be prepared to take care of themselves for at least three days in the event of a major hurricane. It will take at least that long for rescue and relief efforts to arrive.
What you do right now could have a major impact on how you weather the storm.
How to Keep in Touch During a Disaster.
Have an “old-fashioned” phone that doesn’t require electricity.
Before a Storm Hit
Program in all of your emergency contact numbers. Program 9-1-1, the police department, fire station and hospital contact numbers as well as your family members into your cell phone so you don’t have to think about it during the emergency.
What to Expect When Everyone Makes a Call at the Same Time
It is important for consumers to keep in mind that during an emergency, many more people are trying to use their cell phones at the same time when compared to normal calling activity. When more people try to call at the same time, the increased calling volume may create network congestion. Network congestion can cause “fast busy” signals from wireless phones during times of heavy wireless phone usage, such as during an emergency. Customers may even receive a message that says, “Your call cannot be completed at this time.”
What Can You Do During a Hurricane?
- Try short/text messaging service (SMS). It will help free up more “space” for the voice traffic in the network and put you in contact with your loved ones faster (from cell phone to cell phone). Also, if you have a wireless data device such as a Blackberry, you can use its messaging capabilities to communicate.
- Use a landline phone if it is available. In many instances, landline service may still be available in your area. If it is, use it instead of your wireless phone to help prevent network overload.
- Keep non-emergency calls to a minimum; limit your calls to the most important ones. Chances are that if there is severe weather, many people will be attempting to place wireless calls to loved ones, friends and business associates. If the landline phones are not working, this probability increases.
- Wait 10 seconds before redialing a call. On many handsets, to re-dial a number, you simply push “send” after you've ended a call to redial the previous number.
- Establish a network to out-of-town relatives by calling one friend or family member before a hurricane hits. Test the system to make sure everyone gets the message.
- Use the Internet to establish a similar network to inform out-of-town family members. One e-mail message can be sent to many people at a time. Have those online relatives inform family members who don’t have computers that you are in a nearby motel or shelter. If you have a laptop, charge it in advance, pick up a free AOL CD so you can use it to dial in and get information online from your local emergency operations center Web site.
- If you have voice mail, an automated answering service operated by the telephone company, you can leave a message saying you’ve evacuated and where you can be reached. Do not rely on a home answering machine for such messages because they won’t operate if the public power system is out.
- If you didn’t call before evacuating, try to remember to do so when you reach your destination. Calling before a storm helps alleviate the family’s fear about you and helps prevent phone lines from getting jammed with too many calls.
- The American Red Cross in disaster areas maintains a database to help connect families.