Holmes and Washington counties prepare for hurricane season

With hurricane season starting next week, both Holmes and Washington County Emergency Management and Operation Centers have been diligently working to prepare for what is predicted to be an above normal season.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts 13 named storms with six expected to be hurricanes of which two could be major hurricanes. After a storm like Hurricane Michael, Emergency Management Coordinator Connie Welch says the county is often updating their Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan (CEMP).

“The CEMP is a living document that we update every year to reflect what we have learned after Hurricane Michael,†she said. “We learned a lot from Michael. We learned to be prepared for things we had never dealt with before and because of that, we update our CEMP regularly.â€

Holmes County Emergency Management Director Adrienne Owen reflected that sentiment.

“Going into hurricane season you don’t know what to expect,†she said. “Our CEMP is updated much more now than before Michael. That storm taught us a great deal and we are as ready as anyone can be for whatever comes our way.â€

Out of an abundance of caution both counties have pre-event contractors in place to handle debris removal, safety monitoring and staging areas in the event of a storm. Generators are in place at vital locations such as the sheriff’s offices, health departments, emergency operations centers and county commission offices.

Evacuation shelters are set up and available should the need arise. In Holmes County, Bonifay K-8 School will be for both the general population and for those with special needs. In Washington County, Chipley High School and Roulhac Middle School are general population shelters with WAVE school being for those with special needs. The WAVE School is located on the Roulhac Middle School campus.

Holmes County Emergency Management worked with the school district and have purchased equipment and licensing to make checking in at the shelter a much smoother process. The new equipment will work in conjunction with the existing system at the school while keeping track of who and where people are in the shelter.

Each county urges residents to prepare their homes and family for the upcoming season. Owen says to plan for what will work best for your family.

“Plan for the reality of your circumstances, not the recommendation of an organization.,†she said.  “If you cannot financially support an evacuation and all the costs associated (gas, hotel, etc.), then do not make this your plan.  You may have friends of loved ones outside of the evacuation area you can stay with or find out about your local shelter. The more work you do before a storm develops, the better off you will be when it heads your way.â€

Washington County Chairman Tray Hawkins says being prepared is key.

“We as a county work hard to prepare for hurricane season and we want our residents to do the same. It is better to pray for the best but prepare for the worst,†he said.

The municipalities in each county fall under the CEMP created by the county and follow the document just as the county does. Generators are in place at lift stations and wells to maintain water and sewage throughout a storm event.