Unclear communication, needed training, overarching issues uncovered in post-Florence report
WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - New Hanover County has released a detailed, nine-page report that focuses on areas of strength and what needs to improve in how the county handled its response to Hurricane Florence which struck the region more than five months ago.
“This report shined a bright light on what we need to do, mainly communication and training wise, both internally and externally,” said County Manager Chris Coudriet.
The Hurricane Florence After Action Report was conducted by the county’s Office of Strategy and compiled after internal and external focus groups and interviews. The report details many concerns and frustrations staff members had during Florence.
“This report focuses inside and outside the organization. I think when you step back and look at our ability to communicate what the county was doing and why we were doing it...to our people it was good, but there is room for improvement,” Coudriet explained.
According to the report, 1,150 NHC staff members worked more than 115,000 hours over a 21-day period during the storm. The report focused on five general topics: communications, operations, resources, staffing and training.
“A lot of employees didn’t know what their roles were and who to go to for questions, We spend our days doing regular jobs and emergency roles are not familiar to us....We were ready and willing to serve but there wasn’t clear direction."
The report states that due to a lack of internal communication prior to the storm, many employees received mixed messages on reporting for emergency duty and “on call” employees didn’t know if they should evacuate or shelter in place. The report also shows that employees were confused over the county’s evacuation plan. The report suggests a need for a clear communication plan for employees is necessary prior to a disaster with roles, expectations and employee sheltering plans.
“We have to double down on the effort to make sure that we communicate expectations but also give people the skill set they need to step in and do jobs they don’t customarily do on a daily basis,” Coudriet said following Monday’s county commissioners meeting.
“We put our base camp together on the fly. It was created for all of the rescue workers coming into town. Then it was transitioned into the location for DSS and emergency food stamps. It didn’t seem like there was ever a plan, just people working and figuring out as we went.”
Employees stressed that they needed a clearer understanding of their roles and responsibilities in a disaster or emergency. The report goes on to state that employees were reacting instead of being in a proactive role.
Transportation was a significant challenge during Florence, specifically transporting people from shelters to and from medical appointments or distribution centers. The report also stressed that a plan to assess the structural integrity of shelters must be developed due to several sheltering there was significant damage to several hurricane shelters.
"Our shelter didn’t have enough cots, medical supplies, blankets....In the future it would be good to have more supplies at our shelters before opening to public. "
Damaged roads and flooding around the county caused major transportation routes to be disrupted that resulted in a delay of necessary supplies. The report recommends having 7 to 10 days worth of supplies on hand for future disasters. The report states fuel and generators were a top priority for the county. A plan to shelter special-needs citizens was also recommended.
One of the successes listed in this category of the report was the fact the county pre-positioned a team of 911 staff in Raleigh as a backup. This proved a successful move, according to the report, due to the generator in the county’s Emergency Operations Center failing and all 911 calls were routed through Raleigh.
“Titles at the EOC sounded good, but the work didn’t align....There were hours when I didn’t feel like I was contributing and I didn’t know what to do to help.”
The report recommends that the county capitalize on skill sets and talents of employees, ensuring the right staff members are in the right roles at all times. The report recommends assigning section chiefs or shelter managers to ensure proper staffing. The report recommends that additional 911 staff is needed and a new EOC organizational chart would help to streamline communications.
“I wasn’t prepared for what was being asked of me...We have annual hurricane training for our emergency roles, but it’s hard to learn in just a few hours.”
Many county staff members felt unprepared for the storm and felt uneducated on what their responsibilities were.
The report recommends employees be trained for: FEMA/NIMS training, CPR and first aid, mental health and trauma support, HIPPA safety training, Red Cross shelter training, training on how to work within the EOC, and family, home and pet preparation.
The report details time frames ranging from February 2019-June of 2020 for completion of the recommendations within the five categories above.
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