Deep puddles were already forming in parts of the Onslow County Emergency Operations Center parking lot by 10 a.m. Thursday as first responders bustled about the building in preparation for Hurricane Dorian.
Onslow County Swift Water Rescue Team Captain Jaime Lozano said the and the rest of the swift water rescuers had been preparing for the storm since Tuesday. On Thursday morning, Lozano and company were checking the air pressure on their rescue boats.
“We’re doing just last minute preparations,” Lozano said.
It was a common theme across the county’s first responders hub.
The EOC staff and first responders, who will be staying at the building overnight, will work in 12-hour shifts until the storm passes and the danger subsides.
During Hurricane Florence, according to Production Specialist Chad Ray, the EOC worked with one swift water rescue team and had three inflatable Zodiac boats.
This time around, according to Lozano, the Onslow County Swift Water Rescue Team is joined by a state-funded team from Bowling Rock, North Carolina, and their two boats.
Trevor Key, captain of the Bowling Rock Fire and Rescue, said that although the team was from a western part of the state, they had a lot of experience with coastal hurricane rescues. Part of their preparation was getting to know their Onslow counterparts.
“They’re a bunch of really good guys,” Lozano said. “They’re experienced.”
According to Ray Silance, division head of Emergency 911 for Onslow County, there is already an uptick in 911 calls. These “spinups” are typical for a storm like Dorian, he said, but what is not typical is the amount of calls the EOC has been receiving for tornadoes and funnel clouds.
“Me and (Norman Bryson, Onslow County emergency services director), we’ve never had it this much,” Silance said.
In advance of the hurricane, Silance staffed the dispatch center with extra telecommunicators. Instead of the regular six per shift, there are 10 on and 10 resting in other parts of the building. Like many of the first responders on the night shift, they were resting in the EOC bunk room.
Learning from his experience during Hurricane Florence, Silance placed an extra telecommunicator in the main hub of the EOC with a computer aided dispatch (CAD) computer.
“That way we can keep better track of what’s going on,” Silance said.
According to Silance, his current dispatch team is a mix of Florence veterans and major hurricane newbies.
Telecommunicator Moh Burney, for example, started working dispatch in December and has not been through a storm like this before.
“All that training is for now,” Burney said of her months leading up to Dorian.
Burney said when she spoke to the veteran dispatchers about Florence they replied, “Whoo it’s busy.” She only found out she would be working the hurricane shift on Tuesday, but she was ready for the overnight.
Last year, Burney said, she evacuated along with her family to escape Florence. This time around, the family remained in Jacksonville and Burney will be at the EOC until the storm passes. But it’s not something Burney is too bothered by.
“They know I’m safe. I know they’re safe,” Burney said. “We just keep in constant touch.”
Feeding the staff of the EOC is a commitment that also requires a full staff, which like the first responders, stay over at the building.
Last year, according to Emergency Services Administrative Assistant LeAnn Harris, the EOC served more than 240 pounds of bacon over six days to the first responders and other occupants of the building.
On Thursday morning, Harris, Tim Ayers and Lorrain Brown were cracking eggs for Friday morning’s breakfast in the kitchen. The crew was working with about 1,500 eggs this time around.
“We got this,” Harris said. “People are not going to get hungry.”
Harris said her family was also staying in town. Last year, her house had some damage from the storm but she, like all first responders, was unable to take care of her personal problems until she got back.
“We just work through it and deal with our personal stuff when we’re not here,” Harris said.