Randolph County officials fielded dozens of questions from the public about the county's response to the destructive storm of June 29 during the "After the Action Review" forum Wednesday.
A crowd of about 40 attended the forum, held in the Elkins High School auditorium, that featured a panel of county officials and business representatives.
The first question, read by moderator Heather Goodwin Henline, publisher and general manager of The Inter-Mountain, was from Betsy Thomas of Huttonsville, who asked about communication failures during the storm's aftermath.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Anthony Gaynor
Marvin Hill, center, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management, speaks during Wednesday’s ‘After the Action Review’ forum at Elkins High School. Also taking part were, from left, Charles Moats of the Randolph County Fire Association, Greg Hefner of Mon Power and Jim Wise, director of the county’s 911 center.
Rob Henline of West Virginia Radio said his company owns five radio stations in Elkins and two towers on top of Kelly Mountain, all of which lost power after the storm.
"I don't want to say we dropped the ball, but we don't have backup generators," Rob Henline said. "We're a small company, we can't afford that."
Rob Henline said West Virginia Radio had a company come in to estimate how much generators would cost, and said the stations will soon have generators in Elkins and on Kelly Mountain.
"We learned we weren't ready for what could have been a much worse storm," he said.
Although the stations went off the air until power was restored, Rob Henline said employees did put information on Facebook and the stations' webpages. In response, some spectators in the audience Wednesday loudly called out "No power!" and "I don't have a cellphone!"
"We did provide that to the people that got it," Rob Henline said. He also pointed out that 1240 AM is the local station to listen to in an emergency because AM stations "get back on the air quicker" than FM stations in a power outage.
Randolph County Commission President Mike Taylor said he had met with Rob Henline recently, and pointed out that the county can't "order" radio stations to buy generators, but is encouraging West Virginia Radio to do so.
Marvin Hill, director of the county's Office of Emergency Management, said the county has an AM radio station in his office with a broadcasting range of seven miles, and is trying to increase the range.
Michael McRae of Elkins asked why more shelters weren't opened in Elkins after the storm.
Dave Flanagan of the American Red Cross said, "There was a delay ... We tried to get them open as quickly as we could."
Flanagan said he has met with Hill to start "predetermining" shelters "so people know where to go."
Hill said the county's three shelters will be Camp Pioneer, as the "primary location," and Elkins High School and Tyrand Cooperative Ministries.
Only Camp Pioneer was opened as a shelter after the June 29 storm, and was closed after one day.
Dr. James Phares, superintendent of Randolph County Schools, said, "If you have a power outage again, I would certainly pick Elkins Middle School instead of Elkins High School, especially in the summer, because we can't cool this building."
Phares said the EMS backup generator can operate all the systems in the school, while Elkins High's backup generator can operate just the lights and some systems.
Julie Teter of Huttonsville asked, "Why was help turned away from available sources when it was greatly needed?"
Hill said, "At no time that I know of did I turn help away. If it was turned away, it was turned to someone else."
Phares said that he went to the county OEM office Saturday morning after the storm and offered Elkins Middle School and Elkins High School as shelters.
"We also had transportation available, buses with lifts" to take people to the shelters, Phares said, adding that the buses were fueled and personnel was ready.
"We waited for a call from Mr. Hill," Phares said.
Hill thanked Phares for his efforts during the emergency.
"He offered me everything at his disposal," Hill said. "I didn't use everything but it was nice to know it was there."
Roger Ware of Elkins asked, "Why does the city water plant not have a backup emergency generator?"
Elkins Mayor Duke Talbott said, "No modern generator technology will interface with the ancient water plant that we have. That's why we're building a new one."
Talbott said the city's sewer plant has a backup generator "and it kept working, because it's newer technology. We have to build that water plant, folks."
The mayor also noted that power surges at the water plant are causing occasional rust-colored or muddy water.
Mon Power "is having trouble keeping the power going smoothly," Talbott said, noting that free chemicals to "clear up" the water are available at City Hall.
Greg Hefner of Mon Power said, "This was the most damaging and devastating storm in our company's history ... we have never had this much damage to our transmission system."
More than 1,100 poles were replaced and 8,400 locations reported downed lines statewide, Hefner said.
Cece Wallace of Mill Creek asked, "When will the county be informed of the emergency plan?"
Hill said the county's revised emergency plan should be finished no later than Oct. 1. He said the plan's public information will be published on the county commission's website, randolphcountycommissionwv.org.
The plan will be voted on by the county commission after a public comment period, Hill said.
Officials acknowledged that more than 11,000 copies of a 20-page Emergency Preparedness Guide brochure for the county were printed last August but have not been distributed to the public.
"That's our fault," Taylor said. "We should have done a better job of getting it out to you."
The county provided 5,000 copies of the brochure for use as inserts in today's edition of The Inter-Mountain. The brochure is also available in digital form for download at www.theintermountain.com.
Copies are also available at the Randolph County Health Department, Elkins City Hall and Tyrand Cooperative Ministries.
In the audience during the forum were Delegates Bill Hartman and Denise Campbell, both D-Randolph, who Phares challenged from the stage to lobby in Charleston to raise funding for backup generators in Randolph County.
Other panel participants included county commissioners Chris See and Joyce Johns; Bonnie Woodrum of the Randolph County Health Department; Linda Howell Skidmore, editor of The Inter-Mountain; Charles Moats of the Randolph County Fire Association; Mill Creek Mayor Bill Brock; Steve Johnson of Davis Health Systems; John Mutscheller of Frontier Communications; West Virginia University Extension Agent Ron Helmondollar; and Robin Moore of the American Red Cross.
The forum will be broadcast on cable access channel 3 today at 9 p.m. and on Aug. 8 at 9 p.m.