Warren County Supervisors troubleshoot with Emergency Management after severe storms

Published 2:19 pm Monday, July 10, 2023

The Warren County Board of Supervisors met with county Emergency Management Director John Elfer Monday morning to discuss lingering issues stemming from June 17-18 severe thunderstorms that hit the area.

The storms rendered thousands of Warren County residents without electricity, some for up to 10 days, as county road crews, law enforcement and electric company employees responded to the storm. District 4 Supervisor Dr. Jeff Holland said Monday he’d received concerning calls from a group of residents on Funches Road.

“Let’s call this an after-action review,” Holland said. “I got a call from some people out on Funches Road who had me come out there. Their strong belief is that they were forgotten.”

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Holland explained that multiple trees fell on the road during the storm, which spawned what the National Weather Service described as a “high-grade” EF-1 tornado. Tangled in the downed trees were powerlines operated by Entergy.

“The electrical lines turned out to be dead, because they were dead from the other end, and telephone lines,” Holland said. “What is our process, once we look at a spot, who goes back to that spot or do we even have the manpower and time to go back to a spot, and see (if critical responses have been made)?”

Holland credited Jamie Cain and the Warren County Road Department for working over multiple days to clear debris from the roadway. Cain, who was also at Monday’s meeting, said his team was instructed by Entergy for a number of days to not touch the downed trees due to the downed powerlines.

Cain said he sent a county road crew member to Funches Road every day to assess the progress of Entergy’s clean-up in the area.

Holland then directed his concerns to Entergy’s storm response, saying the County needs to implement a system for improved communication with Entergy, in order to best serve residents.

“The people that are off Funches Road, Woodland Hills and some of those areas, stayed for over a week without being able to get out,” Holland said. “They eventually plowed their own ways out across their own properties. They didn’t go across anything the county had anything to do with, which is not good for them or for emergency services, being able to get to them.

“I understand Entergy’s inability to get to some of these places, but it makes it even worse when there’s not actually a line problem,” he added. “There were lines down, but they were dead long before (Entergy) got to them.”

Cain explained that, normally, his office will call Entergy repeatedly after storms to alert the agency of downed lines blocking roadways, especially in cases where emergency services cannot access those areas by alternate routes.

Elfer expressed his own concerns as well.

“It’s about public service, and (Entergy) getting residents the information,” Elfer said. “Had they called, and had (the Emergency Management office) known about it, we could have sent a deputy down there to make contact with the residents and communicate to see what the solution might be.”

Holland said his main goal moving forward is to assess the county’s processes and find ways to more effectively communicate with Entergy and the public.

“We’re in a situation where we need to represent those people after some period because they don’t have anyone speaking for them,” he said. “Especially when it starts to go days (without electricity). Our operating picture needs to be reevaluated.”

Elfer said his office would take the lead on a reevaluation of response and communication between area utility services and county agencies.