A little more than a year ago, West Virginia was struck by devastating straight-line winds that left residents in nearly every county without electricity for a time - some of them for more than a week. While such a powerful weather event is exactly the reason for the development of the state's disaster management system, it provided an unfortunate opportunity to discover room for improvement in the plan.
When electrical and telephone lines are down, communication becomes considerably more difficult. Administration of the "E Team" Internet-based emergency management system employed by the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management may need a little fine tuning, then, according to a recent Governor's Office report on the derecho. Municipalities were supposed to be able to use E Team to communicate with state and federal agencies, and to convey requests for resources.
Complications included counties being unable to use their log-ins, or unaware of potential workarounds during a power outage; and emergency responders being unfamiliar with the system and misunderstanding its purpose, according to the report.
Paul Howard, director of operations for the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, told a reporter there were, of course, access issues after the storm. "It's Internet based, so if communications systems are down then there's trouble," he said.
While there will always be limitations to such plans, the work that has gone into the development of E Team and the state's other disaster-preparedness efforts is too important to not pay attention to the nuts and bolts that will allow them to serve their purpose when the need arises. Proper training - and regular review - is essential.
Officials should continue to use the Governor's Office report to spotlight areas in which each and every person who needs to be comfortable with the system gets all the help needed in order to avoid similar difficulties when the next disaster strikes.