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Hurricane Florence: ‘There will be a new normal after this’

Ryan Campbell in the Durham County Emergency Management Center: “If you have plans to leave (Durham), I’d say that’s a good plan.” (Photo by Katie Nelson)


At the Durham County Emergency Management Center, staffers are ready to hunker down for days after Hurricane Florence hits. They’ve got sleeping bags, a backup generator and a stockpile of food and water.

Ryan Campbell, an emergency management planner in the office, told The 9th Street Journal that the center’s biggest concern is “making sure people know how big this storm is going to be. If you have plans to leave [Durham], I’d say that’s a good plan.”

They’ve been tracking the storm since last Thursday, and have been pushing out about 12 “preparedness” messages per day on the center’s social media accounts.

In the large room that serves as the Emergency Operations Center, tables have been set up for different teams: emergency services, human services, public information, infrastructure, logistics, planning, and command.

Several bright televisions line the walls with the National Hurricane Center’s latest predictions for Florence’s path, strength and speed.

Campbell pointed at one map that placed the storm’s arrival in Durham at 8 a.m. on Thursday and said,  “These images are misleading because it makes you think you still have Thursday morning to prepare. But Thursday is not the day to get up early and finish putting your lawn chairs away. By then, you have to be ready.”

Staffers in the Emergency Management Center have sleeping bags and supplies so they can stay for days. (Photo by Katie Nelson)

Leslie O’Connor, the department’s division chief of emergency management, said people have a personal responsibility to be prepared for a storm.  “Responders are here and they’re ready to go, but it’s all about self self-preparedness.

O’Connor said they use a phrase in the office: “The first 72 are on you.” That means that “anything that isn’t life-threatening will not be responded to for the first three days of the storm, so people need to be ready to take care of themselves for those 72 hours.”

First responders should be able to rely on the regular radios. But if they don’t work because of major power outages and infrastructure damage, Campbell and his team have been setting up alternate systems so the police and fire departments can communicate.

Campbell encouraged Durham residents to sign up for AlertDurham, which provides text and email notifications about emergencies. “As long as people have access to the devices they signed up for, they’ll be able to receive notifications,” Campbell said. “Our last backup plan is sending police cars out to neighborhoods and having them make announcements with the intercom.”

Emergency officials liken Florence’s path to Hurricane Fran, which devastated Durham in 1996, and say the new storm’s rainfall potential might be comparable to Harvey, which flooded Houston last year.

Severe wind damage and flooding are to be expected, including at least 15 inches of rain and 30 mph winds. “The longer [Florence] hangs out after it makes landfall, the more rain we’ll get, like what happened in Houston,” said Campbell.

Said O’Connor, “There will be a new normal after this.”