Commissioners are exploring the possibility of looking outside the Swansboro Town Hall campus for an emergency operations center.
During Isaias, which came ashore as a Category 1 hurricane on Aug. 4, the EOC was established as usual in the Public Safety Facility. Due to the fact that the hurricane was downgraded and moved through the area swiftly, there were few problems. But the town, in the words of Chris Seaberg, town manager, may have “dodged a bullet.” The Public Safety Facility is not a safe place to be when storms reach a certain level of ferocity.
“Things went well,” Chief Ken Jackson of the Swansboro Police Department said. “But it was not a high-wind event. The gusts only reached 40 to 45 miles per hour. We felt safe at those wind speeds.” And, he added, “We didn’t have any leaks … that I’m aware of.”
Mark Tessing, chief of the Swansboro Fire Department, said there were no issues with the building. He said, “Everything went well with the fire department.”
But with six weeks of hurricane season left, there is concern that a future storm might pack more of a punch.
In comments following Hurricane Isaias, Mayor John Davis asked board members if they would consider looking at Swansboro United Methodist Church as an alternate EOC site. Board members agreed, with the understanding that if suitable, the full commission would have the opportunity to consider the memorandum of understanding before it is executed.
Seaberg said he has toured the church with the Rev. Kevin Baker, senior pastor.
“It is rated for a 130-mile-per-hour wind,” Seaberg said of the church. “I visited the site this past Wednesday,” he added on Friday, Aug. 21. Seaberg said no other sites have been identified, but he added, “We are still discussing details.”
The church, which is at the corner of N.C. 24 and Old Hammock Road, is made up of three separate buildings. The original sanctuary, built in the late-1960s, is Building 1. The current sanctuary, built in the mid-1990s, is Building 2, and the newest section, used for contemporary worship, a child care center and as a fellowship hall, Building 3, was built about five years ago.
Baker said the church trustees are open to the idea of allowing the town to shelter in the church, but details have yet to be settled.
“We haven’t gotten very far,” the pastor said. “We have just had the discussion.”
Swansboro would most likely be allowed to shelter in the basement of Building 2, according to Baker. That area includes Sunday school rooms, a bunk room, a kitchen and restroom/shower facilities. However, there is no generator.
That should not pose a problem for the town, according to Tessing.
“I think if we go over to the church it would only be for a short time. We could use portable generators. Most events only last between 24 and 48 hours,” he explained.
An EOC becomes the central gathering place for key town personnel during times of natural disasters. It becomes the center of local government activity. It serves as the round-the-clock home for police, fire and administration. Commissioners must make sure those personnel are protected in a suitable structure.
During Hurricane Florence in September 2018, a Category 1 storm, the Public Safety Facility suffered roof damage, experienced significant leakage from the relentless rain and lost power when the backup generator failed.
Following that, the generator issue was addressed and an engineer was hired to do a detailed analysis of town buildings. (See related article.)
“Do we have to have an emergency operations center?” Commissioner Frank Tursi asked at a recent board of commissioners meeting. “Can the county take over?”
Jackson replied to the question.
“Yes, we need an emergency operation center in Swansboro,” the police chief said. “We’d want to be here to monitor the community.”
Tessing has said an EOC suitable for the next 30 to 50 years could cost in the millions of dollars, considering the cost of land acquisition and construction.
Knowing that type of project could take years to plan and execute, Tursi said that personnel must be housed in a safe place. And, in the midst of hurricane season, “Some immediate decisions need to be made.”
While some emergency vehicles and apparatus are required to be onsite, Commissioner Laurent Meilleur posed the possibility of finding a suitable location where the equipment might be left outdoors. In the short-term, that suggestion seems to be most judicious.
“If we had to, we could travel light,” Jackson said, in reference to the using the Methodist church as an EOC.
“We would require some radio equipment, computer and telephones, all of which are relatively easy to move,” Tessing said. “As far as my fire trucks and equipment, they would remain at the station because (we) would not respond until it was safe to do so.”
Email Jimmy Williams at email@example.com.
For more on this story purchase a copy of the Aug. 26, 2020, Tideland News.