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Active hurricane season prediction has businesses busy

An early prediction for an active 2007 hurricane season has Gulf Coast businesses and industries putting the final touches on emergency preparations and contingency plans.

The gaming industry was greatly affected by Hurricane Katrina, but several casinos were among the first businesses open following the devastating storm.

“We certainly hope the predictions do not come true this year, but I think we will see a different response from the properties,” says Larry Gregory, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission that regulates the industry and issues closing orders for the facilities when a hurricane is approaching land. “We learned a lot from past experiences and are better prepared for any future storms.”

He said the industry has always monitored the weather on a 24-hour basis when a storm enters the Gulf of Mexico and that practice will continue.

“We like to give the properties plenty of time to get the patrons and employees out of the area when a storm is approaching,” he said. “Our main concern is their safety, thus we will allow for ample time to evacuate.”

Now that more casinos are located on land, Gregory says their assets are more protected and he doesn’t think another storm will push barges along U.S. 90 as Katrina did.

Bar raised for preparations

Hancock Medical Center in Bay St. Louis had $26 million in damages from Katrina and is stronger from persevering to recover, according to administrator Hal Leftwich.

“Katrina gave us the worst blow our area has ever taken and raised the bar for preparations. It’s been amazing to see how everyone pulled together to get back on course,” he said. “We have people who are truly committed to serving the healthcare needs in our area.”

The county-owned facility has taken lessons learned from Katrina to beef up its preparedness and most department policies have been upgraded with more detail to address issues that the huge storm unearthed.

Changes to Hancock Medical Center’s 2007 preparations include:

• 800-megahertz radio phones have
been purchased to give the hospital
direct communication with the
county emergency operations center.

• A dedicated fuel supply has been
added.

• Upgraded equipment, materials and
supply inventories to staff a special
needs shelter have been purchased.

• There’s a plan to acquire portalets.

• Vendor response plans are being
upgraded to acquire critical supplies.

• A plan is being devised to move
vehicles out of the strike zone.

• A plan is in place to increase supply
levels so the hospital can stand
alone for five days instead of three.

The hospital also has long-range construction plans to increase their preparedness in the future. These include mitigation plans to move generators and critical equipment to higher levels, adding new flood walls and flood gates, elevating telecommunications equipment and moving critical services to higher levels in the building.

Power critical

Mississippi Power Company is a key player in getting life back to normal after a storm. No customers in the company’s 23-county service area had power following Katrina. However, power was restored to all customers who could receive it within 12 days by a total workforce of 10,800 people, representing well more than 50 companies from 32 states and Canada. The company currently has 184,000 customers.

“This year’s hurricane forecast is the same as it was for 2006 and has no impact as far as our preparations go,” says Christy Barton, the company’s distribution manager and disaster director. “Even though we’re busy now getting ready for the season, we prepare year round.”

She and engineering services manager David Simmons found the 2004 and 2005 seasons were crash courses. These leaders and other employees learn from every storm by assessing the pros and cons of what employees did and continuing year-round planning.

Simmons, who pulls together the manpower and logistics functions for power restoration, begins making calls before each storm season based on the forecast. “The number of men depends on the storm and that’s based on what we expect the storm to do,” he said. “We got more active with plans in late January. We got an earlier start because we had an inactive year last year.”

All employees are trained each year and manpower assignments are made by June 1.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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