State EMA Officials Gather to Plan for Disaster

Mountain State emergency managers spent Wednesday focusing on how residents and responders can prepare for all types of crises, including storms like those in today’s forecast.

During the annual West Virginia Emergency Management Conference, participants reviewed responses to past disasters, including last year’s Superstorm Sandy and a derecho storm. Tom Hart, Marshall County Office of Emergency Management director, said the purpose of the conference – slated to end at noon today at Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack – is to allow emergency managers from across the state to learn from each other. It also helped fulfill a 48 credit hour requirement.

Marty Agee, Raleigh County EMA director, wanted to stress to the public the need for being prepared for any disaster. Doing so means having plenty of water, food, medicines and batteries for flashlights and radios on hand.

“People need to be prepared to take care of their families,” Agee said.

Jimmy Gianato, West Virginia Homeland Security and Emergency Management director, said people should have at least a three-day supply of the items mentioned by Agee.

Lou Vargo, Wheeling-Ohio County EMA director, said one thing he learned from listening to other directors is that during a disaster, those who claim to be volunteers with any nonprofit group should have their credentials and background checked before any contributions are made to the cause they claim to represent.

“Some people may take the opportunity to get into people’s houses,” Vargo said.

Vargo noted that Ohio County received a state grant to purchase portable cribs for toddlers and babies, as well as cages for pets to be used at disaster shelters.

The items were mandated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

With storms predicted, however, emergency managers were keeping an eye on their computers and phones to see where the severe weather was headed. Agee said she would wait and see if she would be forced to leave early.

On Wednesday, participants took a break to learn the latest about storms expected to hit the region Wednesday and early today. Hart said the group stopped a scheduled discussion to receive a briefing from the National Weather Service.

“The majority still have staff in their home counties,” Hart noted of the various county EMAs. “Some are potentially looking to leave early.”