Remembering the Derecho: Learning how to prepare and adapt

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RALEIGH COUNTY (WVNS) – On this day, eight years ago, a huge storm moved through southern West Virginia, knocking out power for days. This was the Derecho of 2012.

According to Robert Hart, a Meteorologist for the National Weather Service, there was a lot of energy and instability in the atmosphere that day. Hart added it was unusually hot and humid. He said Beckley reached 96 degrees, a record high for the day at the time. To top it off, Hart said a large surface front pushing a cluster of thunderstorms made its way to our area.

“Once that line of storms moved southeast across West Virginia, it encountered this very hot and humid air mass, and just really intensified to a pretty widespread and pretty severe event,” Hart explained.

Hart labeled the Derecho of 2012 as eyeopening to a lot of entities, causing local, state, and federal government agencies to revamp their preparedness programs over the last eight years. This includes adding and devoting resources to both outreach and preparation.

Eight years later, Raleigh County Emergency Management continues to implement changes in response to what they learned during the Derecho. John Zilinski, Director of Raleigh County Emergency Management, said people across the region, were without power for hours and even days, including the 911 center.

Zilinski said there were not enough generators to provide power for first responders and to be used for public service. Zilinski said because of the derecho, this is no longer the case.

“They have placed generators at fueling stations. Everybody rearranged their train of thought on being without power not only for a day or two, but it could happen for a week or two weeks, and that just showed how critical infrastructure could be handled,” Zilinski said.

Multiple facilities were established and are ready to be used as regional deployment centers to stockpile supplies. Zilinski said one of the biggest problems during the derecho was getting supplies in the first three days.

During the pandemic, these facilities are being used to distribute supplies and personal protective equipment as well. Raleigh County Emergency Management Planner, Cody Fortner, said they were able to fine-tune their COVID-19 response strategy based off of what the learned during the Derecho.

“Logistics is the biggest thing that I have seen in the operation. Logistics is a big part of any type of response, when someone needs something there has to be someone that can go out and get it, and source it,” Fortner explained.

Fortner said this is just one of the many ways the emergency management division learned to adapt and prepare for new situations.

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