Lessons after Katrina: How MEMA has changed - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Lessons after Katrina: How MEMA has changed

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By Ashley Conroy

PEARL, MS (WLBT) - Five years after Hurricane Katrina, emergency responders have learned lessons of their own including the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

Director of Mitigation for MEMA Bill Brown says the most haunting memory is the fact that all communication was down for about 24 hours after the storm.

"The fact was, we didn't know. And that's what stands out in my mind most was our communications were totally down all cell phones, all phones," Brown said.

Inside the walls of the 70-thousand square-foot facility in Pearl, are pictures of the devastation from Katrina. Those at MEMA say it's a constant reminder of the lessons learned five years later.

Since then, much as changed. The Pearl facility was first operational almost a year post Katrina.

The State Emergency Command Center back then was 500 square feet. Now, the command center is four-thousand square feet.

In addition, Governor Haley Barbour requested $140 million from Congress for an "interoperable" communications network, which would be called the "Mississippi Wireless Integrated Network".

With the help of $70 million from the U.S. Department of Commerce, $17 million from the Department of Justice, and $57 million in state bonds, MSWIN has been operational in southern Mississippi for about a year.

Brown says the goal is to have MSWIN running state-wide by December 2011.

"And for the first time no matter what the discipline is that is responding to, the call, they'll be able to communicate with each other," said Brown.

MEMA reports that MSWIN was most recently used during the oil spill in the gulf. They distributed more than 200 radios to help boat operators respond to reports of oil from a spotter aircraft.

Since Katrina, MEMA also added a warehouse that houses thousands of goods inside such as water, disaster meals, blankets and cots.

MEMA Spokesperson Greg Flynn says the goal was to have necessities readily available when a disaster strikes.

Flynn says these goods can reach anywhere in the state within four hours.

With new disaster preparations, technology and communication, Brown says the ultimate test of a successful operations are the minds behind the work.

"You've got to be able to work together, communicate together and be able to respond together. And together we can make it work," said Brown.

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