A county-wide critique of the response to the aftermath of the storm that left thousands of residents without power during record-setting heat is still being planned, but officials say they've already learned some lessons should they face the situation again.
Washington County Emergency Management Agency director Jeff Lauer said the meeting should be set this week for county, city and other local officials to go over lessons learned and potential changes in the wake of power outages that followed a derecho, a land-bound storm with hurricane-force winds, that ripped through the region June 29. Even though the power has been back on and many residents have moved on from the storm, he's got a lot of work to do before he can close the book on it.
"I'm a one-man office. We're still doing damage assessment," he said.
One change Lauer's already considering though is what to do if the emergency operations center faces its own emergency, which happened the day after the storm when a generator fire forced a move from the courthouse to a conference room on the second floor of the sheriff's office. That was what the county's emergency plan called for, but Lauer said he could have brought more supplies and wants to be better prepared should such a shift be necessary in the future.
"The biggest thing is to have a little better secondary location ... two or three secondary locations that are planned out a little more and go and test them out," he said.
The widespread power outages played havoc with various means of communication - television, radio, Internet and cell phones. Some residents expressed frustration that they had trouble getting information on water boil advisories and places to get water and ice. Lauer noted that at one point his only means of communicating with the Village of New Matamoras was by radio via the MARCS towers used by law enforcement and fire departments.
"I'm hoping that's one of the things that will come out of the critique is how to better notify the public," he said.
Lauer said he'd like local media to be involved in that solution as well, noting they are the main outlets the EMA uses to convey information to residents.
Marietta Mayor Joe Matthews suggested residents consider purchasing a portable, battery-powered radio so they could pick up stations when their electricity is out and their other information sources are inaccessible. He provided updates on local television and radio stations, but they weren't heard by people without working devices to receive them.
"People need to take a little responsibility," he said.
The Belpre Volunteer Fire Department's training center and bingo hall served as the base of operations for relief efforts in that city. Mayor Mike Lorentz said people learned about it by word of mouth but the city should probably look at designating the site as a meeting place in its emergency plan.
"We did generate a crowd pretty quick," he said.
Belpre officials learned other lessons as they dealt with a scenario Lorentz said he hadn't imagined - the entire city being without electricity for an extended period of time.
"We're going to have to buy one more generator. We were short one generator to keep people from Constitution on water," he said, noting residents in that area were without water service for the weekend after the storm.
The city also won't put off repairs to radio units for police and utility workers, which it had done in the past as a cost-saving measure.
"We won't do that again," Lorentz said. "Anything like that'll go straight to the shop."
City council plans to form a committee to examine the response to the situation. Lorentz said he thinks the county-wide meeting with other officials will also be valuable.
"I'm going to think of things they didn't, and they're going to think of things I never would," he said.
Matthews said Marietta officials plan to participate in the county-wide critique, but a few changes have already been identified there as well.
He's looking to acquire gas-powered generators for the city's well fields, as well as smaller ones for the lift stations to keep them running if power is out for an extended period of time. Matthews said he's still determining what type of generators would be needed and how they would be funded, but he mentioned grants and state surplus sales as possible approaches.