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Member Relations Corner: Hurricane Matthew and the Need for Emergency Planning 

By Rob Shepherd, NCLM Assistant Director of Business Management and Membership Development Services

Hurricane Matthew serves as a reminder that North Carolina municipalities should always be prepared for natural and man-made disasters. As we all know, disasters of any kind can strike at any time, and we don’t always have the advanced notice that a potential disaster is likely to strike.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, we were quickly reminded that North Carolina has a well developed and proven statewide plan for disaster preparedness and response. There are always areas for improvement, but overall the system works very well.

One of the main reasons the North Carolina system works is that at its core is a written State Emergency Operations Plan, a routine series of training and exercise programs to teach and test the plan, and constant reviews to improve the state’s disaster management capabilities.

Success in the face of major disasters like Hurricane Fran (1996), Hurricane Floyd (1999) and now Hurricane Matthew requires a commitment to preparedness at the state and local government level. There is no better time to prepare than the present. For many municipalities who were affected by Hurricane Matthew, it may be a little too soon but you can take note of what has worked well and what needs improvement.

In North Carolina, General Statute 166A provides the legislative framework for our disaster management program. The State Emergency Management program is housed in the Department of Public Safety. All counties and municipalities also are charged with responsibilities for preparedness, response, recovery, and hazard mitigation. Organizationally, each county has designated an employee or a group of employees to be responsible for the emergency management function of local government. That person or group should be working closely with all municipal governments within the county.

An important piece of any municipal emergency management plan is your county Emergency Management Director. If you haven’t already done so, contact the county Emergency Management Director to ask about the local plan.

Additionally, if your municipality hasn’t already done so, the League encourages all of its members to adopt a mutual aid agreement, and if applicable, adopt the NC Water WARN mutual aid agreement. For those that are not familiar with the NC Water WARN mutual aid agreement, it allows a utility to request rapid, short-term emergency assistance to restore critical operations to water and wastewater systems. Mutual aid is a critical resource multiplier for those responding to emergencies and disasters in North Carolina. If the disaster exceeds the capability of any given local government, additional assistance may be sought through mutual aid from other local governments in the State of North Carolina, or requests for assistance may be made through the county, directly to State Emergency Management.

As we all know, it is not physically or financially possible for each jurisdiction to own, maintain and staff all of the resources that might be needed to respond to disasters. This is why mutual aid agreements are a critical piece of the emergency response system. Links can be found to information about the mutual aid or NC Water WARN mutual aid programs on the website.

We always hope that we never have to face another hurricane or other any other kind of natural or man-made disaster, but it’s always good to have a plan in place for how your municipality will respond and where you can turn for available resources. As always, if the League can assist you with these efforts, please let us know.