Failing the test: Alabama’s efforts during tropical storm were lacking
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Sep 06, 2012 | 2680 views |  0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When storms pop up in the Gulf of Mexico, predicting where they will go is a less-than-exact science.

However, thanks to buoys in the Gulf that measure wind and waves, thanks to hurricane hunters who fly into the eye of the storm, and thanks to satellites that show the extent and configuration of the system, coastal residents have a pretty good idea of what the storm will bring if it gets to them.

That is why officials along Alabama’s Gulf Coast who were watching Tropical Storm Isaac would have advised Gov. Robert Bentley to do something other than what he did if he had asked their opinion. But he didn’t.

As Isaac gained strength, Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana declared a state of emergency, but the governor hesitated. Once he decided what he would do, he hastily convened a conference call with officials in the coastal counties — at least some of them. A few officials got notice of the conference only five minutes before it started, two others joined the discussion in progress. Mobile Mayor Sam Jones and Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon said they never received the invitation to take part, the Mobile Press-Register reported.

Not that input from Jones and Kennon would have mattered; the governor had made up his mind. He told the others that he was declaring a state of emergency, which most agreed was the wise thing to do. Then he told them he was ordering the mandatory evacuation of some 280,000 residents of Mobile and Baldwin counties. Officials who were on the phone argued that the decision was premature, but the governor had decided. Not long afterward, he signed the necessary executive orders.

The next day, Bentley went to Mobile, held a meeting with officials from the affected counties, and though he did not retract the evacuation order, he did promise to make adjustments to let local officials deal with local situations.

Meanwhile, as Isaac shifted west and away from Alabama, evacuees from Mississippi and Louisiana began contacting rental agencies in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach to find places to stay. They learned that those places of refuge closed because of the governor’s evacuation order.

Local officials began to take matters into their own hands. Fairhope’s mayor simply declined to enforce the evacuation order, while the mayor of Orange Beach, justifiably upset that he had not been invited to take part in the initial conference call, defied the order.

This page understands Bentley’s contention that it is better to err on the side of caution, but to err without consulting all interested parties simply shows a disregard for opinions that might run counter to his own.

Bentley has been through a natural disaster before and handled himself well. In the aftermath of the tornados of April 2011, he stepped up and carried out his duties as a compassionate leader.

However, in this case, he was not reacting to a disaster. His role was to make an informed decision that would involve the lives and activities of individuals, schools, businesses and a host of government agencies. Isaac was a slow-moving storm. The governor had time to consult those who should be consulted and make his decision.

Fortunately for coastal Alabama, Isaac proved a test run. We did not do well on the test, but we have time to correct things and be ready for the next storm.
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