Representatives from several agencies gathered to discuss lessons learned during the January ice storm.
The nearly two-hour meeting March 5 at the LaRue County Courthouse gave emergency responders, health care providers, utility companies, city and county government and the media the chance to compare notes and discuss what services could be improved in the event of another catastrophe.
Deputy emergency manager Chris Jackson said he invited representatives from several utility companies to the meeting; however, only Nolin RECC was represented. Jackson said he had trouble communicating with the utility companies and several suggestions were made as to how that could be improved.
The group agreed the county weathered the storm as well as could be expected – but there was room for improvement.
LaRue County Fire Chief Jason Sadler noted there were no deaths due to vehicles, alternative heating or house fires during the crisis. Firefighters from every department stayed busy clearing roads of fallen trees and checking on residents who were without power.
“You all took care of yourselves in a super fashion,” said Donnie Renn, area 6 manager with Kentucky Emergency Management.
The magnitude of the ice storm cramped the state’s abilities to help local governments, Renn said. The National Guard was called out to help counties with clearing roads and delivering food and water – but assistance in LaRue County was limited because other counties were in more difficult straits.
“If it had simply been a LaRue County storm, we would have got the National Guard sooner,” he said.
Jackson said 70 percent of the county’s water supply was “non-functioning” during the storm’s aftermath as there was no electricity to run the pumps. A plea to the state for backup generators was unfruitful.
Hodgenville Water Works was out of power for only five hours, but had a backup generator that would have prevented an outage, Mayor Terry Cruse said. The city also has portable generators that could be hooked to lift stations.
The city was able to provide the county with water during the crisis.
Renn said $20 million in grants would become available for generators through the state. He should hear more about the availability March 26.
Clara Mae Druen, spokesperson for Hardin/LaRue Red Cross, said Hodgenville Elementary School was an excellent choice for a shelter for those without electricity. However, if the school had lost power, the shelter would have to be moved because the backup generator powered only lights, not heating units. The shelter was eventually moved to Hodgenville Civic Center, but that site is not ideal as it is too “public,” she said.
Approved shelters must have handicapped-accessible bathrooms, Druen said.
Daphne Loyall, administrator of Sunrise Manor Nursing Home, said the 122-bed facility was without power for only a few hours; however, she knew “heat would be a challenge soon.”
The temperature in the 45-year-old building dropped quickly. Staff put toboggans, socks and extra blankets on the residents and moved those who required medical equipment to the hallway where some outlets were powered by a backup generator. They knew they had to do the best they could with available resources.
“Had we not been able to take care of 122 people, there was nowhere I could take them,” she said.
The nursing home has an agreement with South Fork Baptist Church to use the building in times of emergency; however, the church lost power also.
There are plans for a new nursing home to be built and the old building turned into an assisted living facility. Both units will be updated at that time, Loyall said.
A building, perhaps a large church, that can be used as a temporary medical shelter is needed, she said.
Renn said it would also be helpful to have designated “charging stations” where residents could recharge cell phones and medical equipment.
The group agreed better communication among all agencies is a must.
Jackson requested that Nolin RECC provide an emergency number for county use. Others suggested utilizing ham radio operators, a Web site or a scanner channel.
A representative from The LaRue County Herald News reminded the group of the newspaper’s Web site that was updated daily during the ice storm.