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‘All hands on deck’ as Charlotte-area emergency crews prepare for incoming winter storm

The Charlotte Observer logo The Charlotte Observer 1/16/2022 Jonathan Limehouse, Evan Moore, The Charlotte Observer

Four to six inches of snow may be blanketing Charlotte streets come this weekend, making traveling harder or borderline impossible for residents and first responders.

A “winter storm watch” will go into effect for the Charlotte region late Saturday, as forecasters predict the storm to move in Saturday evening and linger until early Monday.

Multiple officials held news conferences Friday to discuss how their agencies are preparing for the incoming storm that could have wind gusts near 30 mph and up to half an inch of freezing rain.

Mecklenburg County maintenance engineer Dwight Hill discussed how the North Carolina Department of Transportation has been preparing for what is anticipated to be disruption caused by the weather front.

Emergency Management

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Emergency Management encourages all residents to prepare for Winter Storm Izzy and the potential for black ice on roads this weekend, Deputy Director Robert Graham said during a virtual joint news conference with other local agencies Friday.

Residents should have enough essential supplies for the next three days for their families and pets, but buy what you need and don’t “panic buy,” Graham said.

“We all know that we are currently seeing supply chain shortages throughout the county and country,” he said. “Next week it’s going to take some time to get all those wonderful things we like to purchase back on shelves.”

Emergency Management will be activating the county emergency operations center Saturday night and it’ll remain open until storm conditions improve, Graham said. To help essential personnel and utilities working during the storm, residents should “stay off the roads,” he said.

“When you’re on the roads and folks have accidents that are not a part of the essential services, it really creates problems for our ability to get things done within our city and county,” Graham said.

Emergency Management is working closely with Duke Energy to monitor power outages and areas with significant damages, Graham said. If power does go out, make sure to have a fully charged cell phone, flashlight batteries, battery operated radios, medical supplies and nonperishable foods, he said.

Don’t use alternative heating sources like charcoal grills, gas cooking appliances, camp stoves or dry wall heaters, Graham said. When using a generator, place it at least 20 feet away from the home, he said.

To receive updates concerning the storm, residents can download CharMeck Alerts, Graham said.

“We’ll get through this and out community will return to a regular work week next week,” he said. “We will get through this.”

Mecklenburg EMS

To help during the storm, Mecklenburg EMS will be adding shifts and incentivizing overtime for its crews and credentialed administrative staff, the agency’s spokeswoman Grace Nelson told the Observer.

The ambulance strike team Medic received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Jan. 6. will be helping, and the agency’s 24/7 logistics support and 911 communications center employees will be working, Nelson said.

“It is all hands on deck,” she said.

Medic has been dealing with staff shortages throughout the pandemic, and as COVID cases rose over the holidays, it affected the agency to the point where it had to request the strike team from FEMA and change some of its operations.


Video: Winter storm threatens Triad this weekend (WXII 12 Greensboro-Winston-Salem)

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“Bolstering staffing is always a priority during weather events, and it will be even more so now during what we consider an EMS staffing shortage nationwide and employees in isolation with COVID-19,” Nelson said.

Extra equipment like ice melt, scrapers and more will be on trucks, Nelson said.

The public should call 911 when there’s life-threatening emergencies, not just during the winter storms, but every day, Nelson said. If someone is unsure about the severity of the emergency, they can call 911 and they’ll point to the best resource for them, including a nurse line, she said.

The impending weather only exacerbates the issues Medic has dealt with over the last four to six weeks, the agency’s Deputy Director Jon Studnek said during the virtual news conference Friday.

Don’t drive to avoid vehicle collisions and be careful when walking on ice because of the increased potential for injury, Studnek said.

For people with pre-existing medical conditions, have a weeks supply of medication available, he said.

CMPD

Calling 911 should only be used for emergencies, CMPD Deputy Chief Steven Brochu said during the virtual news conference Friday.

“We’d like to keep 911 open as much as possible for emergencies,” he said.

The CMPD command center will open on Sunday and remain operating throughout the storm.

If an emergency happens, residents should expect an increase in response times for CMPD officers as they navigate on the potentiality icy roads, Brochu said.

Limit travel on roads, but if driving is a must, then slow down, increase following distance and avoid distractions like cell phones, Brochu said. There will be first responders and utility workers on the roads, so watch out for them because they need as much distance as possible, he said.

“It’s up to us to keep their environment safe,” Brochu said. “We all have equity there.”

CDOT

The Charlotte Department of Transportation’s goal is to have streets passable within 48 hours by the end of the storm, Deputy Street Superintendent Charles Jones said during the virtual news conference Friday.

CDOT’s staff will be working 12-hour shifts, beginning Sunday night into Monday when the storm system passes, Jones said.

Like other agencies, CDOT asks residents to remain off the roads so its crews can work with their plow trucks, he said.

“We’re having to move around cars that have run off the road, or stalled cars, slowing us down and preventing us from being able to clear the roads,” Jones said.

If someone does drive, they should make sure no ice has accumulated on their vehicle because it could come off and hit other cars, he said.

NCDOT advising motorists to stay off roads

To prepare for the storm, NCDOT has been checking and performing necessary repairs to their equipment. Staff members have also been conducting dry runs of more than 2,000 lane miles in Mecklenburg County to ensure roads are safe, spokeswoman Jen Thompson said during a news conference on Friday.

“We don’t wait until the storm is forecasted to start getting ready,” said Thompson. “Once we get through one winter season, we start preparing for the next one.”

Cut and shove crews will also be on hand to remove any downed limbs from roads, Hill said.

“In Mecklenburg County, we might have 4 to 8 inches in one part, and an inch in another,” he said, referring to snow and ice accumulation. “If we do, we can always pull crews from one site to another.”

If road conditions worsen, Thompson advised the public not to 911 unless it’s an emergency. Instead, drivers are instructed to call 51, visit drivenc.gov, or follow NCDOT on Twitter to find information about road conditions and areas to avoid.

During the storm, NCDOT is advising all drivers to stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary, said Thompson, explaining that residents should make trips for food and other supplies before Sunday.

“That’s why we want folks to go to the grocery store and hardware store now,” said Thompson. “Don’t wait until it’s snowing out. We just want folks to be safe, and the safest place you can be is at home.”

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