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Boone County prepares for storm evacuations, despite no drills

The head of Boone County’s Office of Emergency Management said they are prepared to possibly evacuate parts of the county, despite not performing drills to do so.

“I’m confident we’re as prepared as we can be,” director Tom Hurley said. “To say we’re ready is a tough one. We rely on our citizens to be able to evacuate. It would be a major headache for everyone, but it’s in everyone’s best interest to get out of the area for an evacuation as ordered.”

The upcoming spring season brings with it the increased threat of flooding and severe storms in mid-Missouri. Hurley said the office has never performed a drill to practice an evacuation in case of storms.

“It’s difficult to find 5,000 volunteers to spend three hours in traffic,” Hurley said. “It’s something that we discuss, and being that we have the predictive modeling through GIS, we’re able to alleviate a lot of questions.”

The office participated in a statewide earthquake drill, where the office set up a respite center in Linn, Hurley said.

A decision to evacuate an area would come from the area’s top elected official, or that person’s designee, according to the Boone County Emergency Operations Plan. Hurley said his office would work closely with other agencies, such as police and fire departments, on the best way to evacuate people in an affected area. Those leaders would help decide on the necessary evacuation routes in an emergency. Weather forecasts help them decide whether or not to order evacuations, which Hurley said is rare.

“The problem with evacuations is you need a lot of time,” Hurley said. “You need to get the first vehicle way out far before the second and third vehicles can start moving, because you’ve got such a volume of traffic to get through.”

The responsibility to set up emergency shelter belongs to the local Red Cross chapter. Abigail Anderson, director of the central and northern Missouri chapter of the Red Cross, said they work with more than 25 shelter partners in case of emergency. The agency updates its list annually, making sure contacts are still accurate.

“We’ll look at things like, ‘Do they have running water, working facilities, is there a space to serve hot meals?'” Anderson said of their shelter selection process.

Anderson said supplies for the shelters are kept in storage units around the area. Those can supply a shelter for 72 hours following an emergency. The Red Cross would then bring in supplies from neighboring chapters to help if the shelter must stay open longer than that.

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