One Year Later, Agencies Reflect and Plan For Future - - Jackson, MS

Jackson 08/29/06

One Year Later, Agencies Reflect and Plan For Future

By Andrew Hasbun

Last year, it seemed various agencies were not prepared for Katrina's arrival, while some performed remarkably.  Those agencies are now working to make sure they are prepared for the next hurricane.

As the coast rebuilds, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency is making sure new structures are built to survive another hurricane.  Updated building codes are now on the state's agenda.

"You can build attractive structures near the water and build them safely. That is all we need to do make sure we build them safely," said MEMA Director Mike Womack.

Over the past year, MEMA was able to examine their response and now building more shelters closer to the coast is a priority. So is stockpiling supplies and updating communications equipment.

But MEMA'S director admits; no plan is perfect.

"You can write down a plan and you think this is fairly simple, but until you sit down and work through it, phase by phase, you'd be surprised at the misunderstandings that can take place," said Womack.

Entergy has made changes too.  The hurricane left nearly 300,000 customers without power in Central Mississippi.  It was back online in just eleven days, a record.

After the hurricane, Entergy officials gathered to examine their performance.

"We do that after every outage and particularly after hurricanes," said Entergy Mississippi CEO Carolyn Shanks. "We do it to find out what new issues arose that did not come up before. What can we do better? Do we need to do systems upgrades?"

Entergy now has a better weather radar and an on-line outage reporting system. 

Who could forget the conditions at the Mississippi Coliseum?  In the year after the storm, Red Cross volunteers have undergone training and shelters are better prepared.

"We decided to do it this year because last year we just weren't prepared for Katrina and we don't want to make the same mistake twice," said Edwina Bardin, a longtime Red Cross volunteer.

New management has taken over at the Central Mississippi chapter, and a brand new satellite communications system will let the Red Cross to better coordinate relief efforts. Shelters have also stocked up on supplies.

"If we have the stuff on hand now, and our shelters have the capability to store it now, why not go ahead and get it to them," said Latt McInnis, Emergency Services Director.  "That way when I call to open the shelter, they have the stuff on hand, and they are ready to do that.

The chaos and confusion outside the Mississippi Trade Mart for Red Cross aid was one of the most controversial issues in Katrina's aftermath.  Local Red Cross officials say they had no control over how money was distributed.  They say that was a decision made on the national level.

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