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Town hall meeting discusses ideas for extreme weather plan for Genesee County

By Nicole Weddington | on January 30, 2014 at 9:50 PM
FLINT, MI — An ice storm in late December and near-record snow in early January brought people to the Genesee County Administration Building Thursday, Jan. 30, to discuss how the area can better address weather emergencies. 
County Commissioner Brenda Clack and state Sen. Jim Ananich held the town hall meeting to see how the community can better address severe weather emergencies.
"I wish you were here for a different circumstance than you are," said Clack. "We experienced a major catastrophe. People could not receive services."
"Two weeks ago, we had an emergency that doesn't happen very often and we want to see how the members of the community felt," said Ananich.
Many who spoke shared the same concerns -- power outages, downed power lines and unplowed streets.
"I do not understand why Genesee County was not put under a state of emergency. You have no power. You can't even really get dressed, but you still have to go to work. You can't bathe or things like that. I'm on dialysis. I had medical supplies at home and there was still only one path going down my street. If they would have called a state of emergency, it would have eliminated some of the people that would have been on the road. I don't understand it and I need to understand it," said Kimberly Lorick, 52, of Flint.
The meeting was moderated by Siobhan Riley from ABC-12 and panelists included Jenifier Boyer, Emergency Management Manager; Kevin Keane, Consumers Energy; Tony Lasher, Red Cross; Rich Beauchamp, Red Cross; Patrick McNeal, My Brother's Keeper; Steve Walker, Genesee County Community Action Resources Department; and Howard Croft, city of Flint.
"I understand the situation. I'm a retiree of the city of Flint. Less manpower, we all have complaints. How can you drive all the way across town and plow two streets and not plow the rest of the neighborhood?" said William Newsom, of the 300 block of W. Piper Avenue. Newsom had to spend money on his vehicle because of pot hole damage due to the storm, he said.
"The process for declaring a state of emergency is through the government. Local jurisdictions are responsible for declaring the state of emergency as well as the county. They have to say that their resources are overwhelmed. During this storm, there was never a request from the local jurisdictions directed at me," said Jenifier Boyer, emergency management manager at the Genesee County Sheriff's Office.  
"This was the most-hard hit county in the state of Michigan. We suffered catastrophic damage. We expect tremendous improvement in the following years," said Kevin Keane, area manager at Consumers Energy. "There is a power restoration prioritization process. We seek to restore service to hospitals, police, fire, media and other public safety first. After that, we begin to address residential customers. We had 4,500 utility workers in the state of Michigan. Eight hundred of those were in Genesee County. We received 40,000 phones call an hour for five days in a row."
"I think that communication would have been great. We don't have the money, but we have got to do something with these roads," said Patrick McNeal of My Brother's Keeper. 
When asked why some roads were cleared of snow and not others, Howard Croft, director of infrastructure and development for the city of Flint, responded, "We had a number of failures with the vehicles. I can't speculate exactly why. I would like to get an answer so that I can address it for next time."
"The issue that always comes up is communication. It is always the No. 1 thing that needs improvement. The problem is that the people that are seeing things on TV aren't the people without power. How do you get in touch with the folks that really need to hear from you?" said Rich Beauchamp of the Red Cross.
"Some of the most touching stories had to do with acts from neighbor to neighbor. People reached out and did extraordinary things to make sure their neighbors were OK. If this is our new norm, then we have to have new conversations about going above and beyond," said Steve Walker of Genesee County Community Action Resources Department.
"Be prepared for 72 hours. Have an emergency supply kit made up of food, water and a generator. Have a system of checks and balances with your neighbors. It's difficult with some of the restrictions we have. We are a huge county. Do what you can. Work with small groups of people to pull your resources," said Boyer. 
"The resources that come from the state have been dramatically cut. That is why you see so many local cuts. The state has to reach 13 thresholds to be declared a state of emergency," said Ananich. "In the city of Flint, if a local emergency was declared, the emergency manager would decide. Even if a state of emergency is declared, there's no guarantee that monetary assistance from the state will come. Over the last decade, there have been so many cuts. As we're starting to rebuild, I'm hoping that we can put more money into this. We don't have the funds that we used to have," he said.
Clack said a meeting is planned Feb. 10 from 10 a.m. to noon to discuss solutions.
"We hope that it will ease some of the concerns in Genesee County. We need your expertise. We hope that we can come up with something workable in the event that something like this happens again," said Clack.

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