As the 2017 hurricane season moves in to full gear, the city of Richmond Hill is focusing on the lessons it learned from last October’s Hurricane Matthew.
“We spent several months working on this report to make sure our emergency management operations are in line with best practices,” Fire Chief Ralph Catlett told city council Tuesday night. “This is a roadmap we can use moving forward in similar situations.”
Catlett said that over the weekend of Oct. 7-8 last year, some 19 inches of rain fell on the area and winds reached 90 mph as the eye of the storm passed just off the coast. Some 20,000 cubic yards — about 8 million pounds — of debris was cleaned up in the ensuing weeks.
“We knew it was coming, so we had time to ensure all of our equipment was in service,” Catlett said. “That was a big help.”
Catlett said that in the future, he would like to see city officials actively become a part of the county’s emergency operations center in order to better coordinate activities between the city and county.
He also suggested the city analyze its key personnel list to streamline those who need to be re-admitted after an evacuation order to help with recovery.
Communications also will be a focus when the next major storm impacts the area.
“We were using email and Facebook updates and that worked to a certain extent, but there was no real way to track how effective our messaging was,” Catlett said.
The city recently approved a contract for $4,000 for CodeRED, an emergency notification system that can make 50,000 phone calls per hour and send texts, email and social media messages. It can be used for weather advisories, missing person notifications, evacuation, lockdowns, Amber Alerts, street closures and water emergencies.
Catlett also said the city is working with the American Red Cross and local churches to determine a certified shelter for residents who do not evacuate but wind up needing a place to stay if their homes are damaged.
The fire department will also take steps to inform home owners of how to secure their homes before evacuating to reduce the instances of electrical fires.
Catlett recommended the city spend about $368,000 to purchase back-up generators for five sewer lift stations and both fire stations to ensure they remain in operation during power outages.
“Overall we did an outstanding job responding to the storm,” he said. “The lessons we learned mean we’re better prepared in the event of another.”
In other business, the council voted 3-2 against a motion that would have rescinded a May 16 vote to purchase a new vehicle for “general administration” use.
The council had voted 3-1 last month, with Councilman John Fesperman casting the lone “no” vote, to spend $46,350 on a 2017 Chevy Tahoe. Fesperman at the time asked if the city needed such a large vehicle “with all the bells and whistles.”
When the item was brought up for reconsideration Tuesday night, Councilman Johnny Murphy said it was important for the city to have a quality vehicle for when “congressmen and Fortune 500 CEOs” visit the community.
Fesperman and Councilman Russ Carpenter voted to rescind the purchase, while Murphy and Councilwoman Jan Bass voted not to. Mayor Harold Fowler broke the tie, voting with Murphy and Bass, which means the purchase will go forward.