From Football To Floods, Collaboration Is Key To Public Safety

By Elizabeth Friend Posted April 24, 2014 at 4:41 pm

Orange County is generally regarded as a safe place to live, but local public safety officials say collaboration is the key to facing future challenges confronting our community.

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt says the town has instituted new policies that allow for unified command during any emergency.

“We are going to implement a system in those moments that allows for an individual to direct the actions of multiple departments, the entire array of town employees,” says Kleinschmidt.

Recent weather events have put those plans to the test. This winter, when icy weather posed problems for many commuters, UNC Public Safety Chief Jeff McCracken says Chapel Hill Transit was crucial to moving people safely around town.

“We work very closely with Chapel Hill Transit on weather-related incidents to make sure that we can get our people back to their vehicles,” says McCracken.

Carrboro Police Chief Walter Horton says the same proved true when the Rocky Brook Mobile Home Park flooded during last June’s epic rain.

“We relied on all our partnerships to get those residents what they needed,” recalls Horton. “I believe we also used some buses to transport them to the Century Center for temporary shelter until we could get them to hotels.”

Some big events are celebrations rather than emergencies, but officials say planning for football games can be just as complex as responding to flash floods.

Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens notes that even long-awaited improvements like the soon-to-open Riverwalk can pose new challenges.

“We’re putting in extra money; we want to start right from the get-go to make sure we have lots of presence for the police on bicycles and in cars,” says Stevens. “Also, kudos to Orange Rural Fire, they’re doing now lots of special training. How do you do rescue in a river? We’re going to have a lot more people on the river, so we better be prepared.”

Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue says big events call for a bigger space for emergency response planning.

“One of the takeaways that’s very clear is that we need some additional emergency operations center facilities where we can get all of our public safety leaders together in a space that allows us to work with the technology that we all rely upon now,” says Blue. “Right now, the Town of Chapel Hill’s Emergency Operation Center is a very small room in the basement of Fire Station Number One. You can get about six or eight people in there comfortably. We feel the strain of those facilities when we have those large scale events.”

While public safety officials at all levels of local government are working to coordinate their agencies, Chapel Hill Fire Chief Dan Jones says individuals and families need to consider their own action plans.

“No community, regardless of its size, can have enough resources to be prepared for every potential event. It’s just impossible; it’s not affordable,” says Jones. “I think citizens need to take more responsibility on themselves to have a plan for when these events occur- how they’re going to get home, how they’re going to get together with their families.”

These comments were made during the Public Safety hour of the 2014 WCHL Community Forum. You can listen to the entire forum here.

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