An exercise in hurricane readiness

Published 9:30 pm Monday, September 24, 2018

The city of Suffolk was fortunate enough to avoid the worst effects of Hurricane Florence recently, but regardless of the final outcome, emergency services went to work.

The Virginia Department of Emergency Management worked throughout the weekend before the storm and after Gov. Ralph Northam had declared a state of emergency. Residents were urged to evacuate from Zone A during Virginia’s first implementation of the Know Your Zone tiered evacuation system that was established last year.

Personnel at the Suffolk Emergency Operations Call Center were on call 24 hours each day while the Virginia National Guard armory on Godwin Boulevard was stocked with rations, water and vehicles.

Email newsletter signup

City and school offices were closed, and an emergency shelter was established at King’s Fork High School in conjunction with the American Red Cross.

“I think the city responded very well,” said Mayor Linda Johnson. “We were fortunately spared a tremendous hit here. We were very, very, very fortunate, especially if you look to our neighbors (to the south) and what they’re going through.

“That could have been us, but we were as prepared as we could possibly be and ready for whatever was coming our way.”

City Manager Patrick Roberts also praised the performance of Suffolk Fire & Rescue, Suffolk Police Department, Suffolk Sheriff’s Office and other emergency personnel.

“I was just really proud of the preparations that city staff put in place,” Roberts said.

There were lessons learned in the days leading up to Florence’s arrival. Roberts said it was important that a lot of folks found out about Know Your Zone and learned what zone they occupy.

“We’re looking at ways to make that information (more) available and continue to have that in our public information so folks aren’t scrambling late in the game trying to figure out at what risk are they,” he said.

While it was a wakeup call for some residents to be prepared, others may have become skeptical about the severity of future forecasts, considering Florence dropped from a severe hurricane threat for Suffolk residents to something much less grave.

“It’s always a concern that people could become desensitized with all the discussions and the 24-hour coverage,” Roberts said,

But there are few regrets among city officials when they look back at their precautions.

“All I can say is that it’s so much better to be overprepared and take precautions,” Johnson said. “You do not need to find out at the last minute that something will hit you and you come up short.”