Emergency Programs stays prepared for winter storm season

by | Jan 21, 2022

A field near Boone, N.C. during a heavy snowfall Jan. 17. (Courtesy of Kurt Presting)

North Carolinians are no stranger to winter storms, nor to the challenges they present.

Icy roads, loss of power and falling trees are just a few of the dangers that these storms can bring. Those kinds of things can cause all kinds of problems for agriculture as well, which is where the NCDA&CS Emergency Programs Division comes in.

Heading into winter storm season, preparation is key, said John Howard, EP division director.

“We have all kinds of different seasons throughout the year that we are prepping for, and right now of course we’re looking at ice, snow and winter effects across the state,” he said. “As with all of our seasons, that involves making sure that all of our equipment is in working order, making sure that we’ve got good lines of communication with our staff.”

Communication is vital for EP during winter weather, as the division works with a wide array of partners both within NCDA&CS and externally. Information sharing ahead of a potentially dangerous season is vital to make sure that resources and personnel get where they need to be and on time.

For NCDA&CS, that importance is magnified even more by the sheer breadth of responses that EP may have to be a part of. Power outages can also cause serious damage to food supplies and supply chains, and food and drug regulators at NCDA&CS need to know if the businesses that they monitor have been without power. The division also helps coordinate a large-scale emergency response from the N.C. Forest Service, which sends chainsaw crews to help clear downed trees from roadways so that first responders can get where they need to go. It doesn’t stop there, as EP also works with the NCDA&CS Veterinary Division to respond to power outages at commercial livestock facilities.

“It’s such a big variety that we deal with in any emergency response. The department touches so many different parts of the economy and the state, and that is somewhat unique to us,” Howard said. “If you look at something like the Department of Health and Human Services, where they are focused on just health effects. Well, that’s also a part of what we do, too, in some of our response.”

While EP has plenty on its plate just within the confines of NCDA&CS, the division also has a significant part to play in the larger statewide disaster response effort. Working together with North Carolina Emergency Management, EP connects with other agencies both at the state and local levels to make sure that information and resources get where they need to go. When those partners come together during emergencies or potentially dangerous times like winter storm season, EP also fills an important advisory role when sending out information to the public that pertains to agriculture.

“NCEM is definitely our biggest partner when it comes to both gathering information and being able to share it. They also reach out to us when they get requests for agriculture assistance, and that’s one of the mechanisms that may send us into action,” he said. “We’re glad to have a seat at that table and to be a part of that response.”

The responsibilities still don’t stop there for EP. Leading into winter storm season, the division also works with non-governmental organizations that need help with their own preparations. This usually takes the form of sharing information that the division has gathered through forecasts and mapping.

For instance, EP can share information on the probability of ice in a particular part of the state with farmers and producers in that area. The division sends maps detailing those forecasts directly to private industries in the affected areas, which in turn helps them better prepare and lessens the chances of disruption to the food supply.

During the storm itself, information gathering is the first order of business. In order for all of that preparation to be of any use, EP has to know what, if any, impacts the storm has caused, where they are and how serious the danger is. From there, decisions can be made on what level of response is necessary, or if any response is needed at all. From there, it’s simply a matter of following the training that EP and its partners have undergone all year long.

Emergency Programs employees are training year-round to keep North Carolinians safe from all kinds of threats. For tips on how you can prepare for winter storms, visit https://www.ncagr.gov/disaster/Winter-Weather.htm.