Information lacking during emergency

Published 8:31 am Saturday, March 19, 2016

Editorial –

Before the waters reached Orange, attempts to contact Orange County Emergency Management were unsuccessful. Rumors and misinformation were quickly passed around as facts between citizens with the interaction on the social media Facebook increasing the speed of the false hoods.

Residents were in need of information, which did not start flowing until Monday after a Public Information Officer was apparently named.

Why do we believe that is when a person was named? Because that is when information started trickling out of the Orange County Emergency Management Department.

Press releases included the URL for the official website Orange County Emergency Management encouraging residents to access for more information concerning the disaster. Attempts to use a phone number listed created an unending circle of a recorded message leaving one unable to reach a live person or the option to leave a voice message.

As of Friday afternoon, the only information posted is the county’s Sand Bag Policy. Areas of the county from Little Cypress to Cove including areas of West Orange and Pinehurst were under a mandatory evacuation as of 1 p.m. Tuesday. One would think such valuable information might be on the official website.

Residents without access to television or radio, whether by choice or busy preparing for the unknown, remained unaware of the declaration on Wednesday morning as water invaded downtown Orange.

While information related to the east side of the county started trickling out of the department, officials avoided discussing those on of the west side of State Hwy. 87 experiencing rising water blocking their roads and homes or our neighbors to the west of us in north Vidor who are also inundated with flood waters.

What if this had been a hurricane requiring the entire county to evacuate? Would Emergency Management wait until the last possible moment to address the concerns of the citizens?

Residents were looking for answers while facing the unknown.

Understandably, the disaster was not one we are familiar with in this area.

Older residents were often overheard saying, “I have never seen it this bad before.”

Law enforcement agencies should be commended for a job well done during the events.

Chief of Police/Emergency Management Coordinator for the City of Pinehurst Fred R. Hanauer III, with city employees and police officers, went door-to-door to those residents and businesses at risk of flooding. They did this once with the voluntary evacuation notice and again with the mandatory evacuation.

Hanauer said the city was able to provide the extra service due to the size of the city.

City of West Orange unfortunately ran out of sandbags on Monday, immediately ordered more and had the bags overnight delivery for the safety of the residents. The City of Vidor volunteered and delivered bags to West Orange Monday evening so citizens could continue preparing for the worse case scenario.

Orange Police Department manned barricades helping prevent further damage to homes and possible looters.

Orange County Sheriff Keith Merritt increased patrols and dispatchers during the ongoing catastrophic event.

City officials and law enforcement could be seen working together during the disaster.

However, we were looking to Emergency Management for direction and information. What was given was too little, too late.

We are fortunate no injuries or deaths as a direct result of this disaster have been reported as yet. Can we afford to take that risk in the next disaster?