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One Call left us waiting by the phone

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By The Staff

 Oldham officials plan to spend $49,200 to renew a contract with One Call Now, a county-wide emergency notification service activated by laptop computer that can reach thousands of households by telephone in a matter of minutes to deliver a recorded message. 

When we first heard plans for the service back in 2008, we never expected One Call Now meant we’d receive just one emergency phone call in a calendar year.

And what an eventful year it has been. 

Oldham residents quickly learned to expect the unexpected after two monumental weather events blocked roadways and caused widespread power outages across our community. 

Hurricane Ike swept through our community in September, leaving a tangled mess of tree limbs and power lines across local roadways. In January, several inches of ice and snow coated everything in sight. 

Widespread power outages during both events left residents scrambling to provide food and shelter for their families, but neither time did residents receive a phone call from the county’s emergency notification system. 

Our opinion? It sure would’ve been helpful. 

Granted, the idea of scrambling for food and shelter differs according to a person’s resources. For those with funds for such emergencies, it meant hoping for an open table at Cracker Barrel and a vacancy at the Holiday Inn Express. But for those on a fixed income, with limited transportation and/or special medical needs, food and shelter aren’t as easy to come by in an emergency. 

Oldham County Emergency Management Director Kevin Nuss says he didn’t utilize One Call Now in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike or January’s ice storm because he didn’t think anyone would receive the call. 

But we’re positive that not everyone in Oldham County lacked phone service during those memorable weeks. 

How do we know? Because they called The Oldham Era so frequently our receptionist started answering the phone with, “Thank you for calling The Oldham Era, do you have power?” For those without power, she offered information and helpful phone numbers as quickly as we could compile a list.

During Hurricane Ike, residents’ questions ranged from what to do with their tree limbs to where they could get a hot meal, take a hot shower, buy fuel and groceries and who to call about downed power lines. 

Residents wanted to know where they could find a pharmacy open for business, where they could charge their cell phones and if Baptist Hospital Northeast had power. 

We received calls from employees of Oldham County Schools who said due to canceled classes, they didn’t have anything to do and wanted to find a shelter where they could volunteer. 

We received calls from local church members inquiring about shelters or food stations where they could lend a helping hand, and when we hadn’t heard of any, they promised to provide a hot meal that evening at their facility if we’d promise to spread the word. 

Hurricane Ike provided us a huge inconvenience, but at times it felt like everyone our community had agreed to host a camping trip in their backyard.

So when the ice storm brought our community to a standstill just four months later, we received many of those same calls, although finding a hot meal, hot shower, warm facility and charging stations topped the list. 

The power outages proved fatal in surrounding areas, and Oldham residents did the best they could to keep their families – and neighbors – warm.

In September and again in January, we experienced a feeling of community we’d never felt before as neighbors worked together to make the best of a tough situation.

But we never received One Call.

We know employees of The Oldham Era aren’t alone in their information hotline services during Ike and the ice storm. We answered questions to the best of our abilities and for those we couldn’t answer, we kept a list of names and phone numbers to call families as soon as we had the information. 

For the record, amid the cell phone numbers, we saw plenty of 241-, 243-, 228- and 222- prefixes on the list.

In October, Nuss told The Oldham Era residents flooded Oldham County Central Dispatch with non-emergency calls from informational to absurd during Hurricane Ike. Nuss is the director of dispatch, so it seemed strange he didn’t utilize One Call Now to alleviate those calls. Live and learn, we thought. 

Then the ice storm hit. Who knew that experiencing the aftermath of Hurricane Ike would be a practice for a true test of survival? 

At The Oldham Era, we remembered our experience following Ike, and tried to improve on it. 

Clearly, Nuss and other county officials did the same by opening emergency shelters sooner in January than they’d responded after Hurricane Ike. But the One Call we waited for never came. 

In fact, Oldham residents have only received one emergency notification from One Call Now since the county subscribed to the service, and that occurred earlier this month when a boil water advisory took effect for a portion of the county. 

Officials also used the system to notify property owners along the Ironman triathlon cycling route of road closures.  

We realize there isn’t a chart dictating when to use the emergency notification system, but we’d classify widespread power outages and freezing temperatures as good time to start.

As residents, we can do our part by registering cell phone numbers with the One Call Now system, so when county officials make the call, there’s someone on the other end of the line. 

But if faced with another emergency, we’re wondering if they’ll make the call, or  if we’ll be left waiting by the phone. 

That’s the $49,200 question. 

 

The views expressed in this column represent the views of The Oldham Era’s six-member editorial board.