Officials stress updated trajectory has not changed operational preparation and “confidence in those forecasts is not high”
Raleigh, N.C. – Legislative leaders received a briefing on Hurricane Florence from representatives of the state Emergency Management Division and the Departments of Transportation, Public Safety, and Health and Human Services in a conference call held to update lawmakers at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
Agency staff reiterated that though the most recent forecast is for the storm’s track to take a turn south, those models have not changed planning assumptions or operational readiness preparations.
The confidence in those forecasts is not high, representatives from the Emergency Management Division said, based on the potential that the storm could change tracks again.
Operational preparations are prioritizing the organization of search and rescue teams, particularly swift water and aviation assets. Agencies are also focused on staging commodity support and medical centers in advance of the storm’s landfall.
Agency leaders said they are working with private sector partners and infrastructure developers to map and prioritize the potential impact zones. They continue to monitor areas of particular concern such as coal ash and hog lagoons, as well as a nuclear plant in Brunswick County.
Tactically the divisions are working with local county management offices to coordinate evacuations. Medical support shelters have been staged out of the primary impact zone in areas around Raleigh.
The administration is coordinating closely with FEMA for the staging of power generation support, water, food, and other critical resources.
The state’s fuel supply is stable and is actually significantly higher at this point than in previous events. The agencies report they are in a good situation from a fuel supply standpoint. The challenge is to prioritize movements of that fuel and working with retailers to account for increased usage.
There is currently not an intention by the Department of Transportation to open all traffic lanes of major highways or interstates in the same direction for evacuations. Officials have determined that the region has sufficient arteries of transit that opening all lanes in the same direction is not necessary or beneficial.
The department staff told lawmakers they are working to optimize response times following the storm by coordinating with field branches and staging locations for commodities to be moved into affected areas. “Some are closer than others.”
There is a restriction on flight and major emergency vehicle movements that are high profile in anything over tropical storm force winds. That’s why emergency responders use tropical storm force wind measurements as a planning tool.
Once tropical storm force winds begin, the ability for assets to move is extremely limited by safety protocols. When tropical storm force winds stop, the officials said, the trucks get back on the road.
The field preparation teams are identifying “hot spots” of the likely highest needs. Local emergency managers are already filing requests with state and federal responders and those are being filled as soon as possible.
National Guard leaders are working in the joint force headquarters with the Emergency Management Division, in the same office. Both are coordinating together from the State Emergency Operations Center.
The agency staff members emphasized that preparation efforts are not changing based on today’s updated models of Hurricane Florence’s track:
‘Even if the storm makes landfall in South Carolina and not North Carolina., we are going to experience a significant amount of wind, rain and flooding that we have not seen before and that will last for a while,’ agency staff told lawmakers today.
‘If we have this amount of rain dumped in the middle of the state that then must dump out of southern basins, we’re talking wind speeds we haven’t seen before and flooding effects similar to what we saw two years ago (from Hurricane Matthew).’
‘The fact that it may hit northern South Carolina versus southeastern North Carolina does not change the planning. The original ask of the National Guard was 2400, that has not been reduced, the concern about piedmont and the Charlotte area remains the rain and flooding, the potential change in the storm’s track is just an additional planning factor.’
The focus of the agencies at this point, according to staff, is planning for when waters are above flood stage, to deploy National Guard men and women where they need to be, to deploy commodities where they need to be, identifying what infrastructure will be impacted and preparing to respond.
State officials are scheduled to host another briefing for members of the press and the public at 5 p.m. today.