Emergency Management Coordinator Jeff Kelley brought some good news to commissioners court when he told officials he’d been invited to speak at the International Hurricane Conference later this week in Nassau.

“Washington still doesn’t realize we had a hurricane here,” County Judge Carl Thibodeaux told Kelley. “We’ve had two hurricanes here and they’re still trying to figure it out. Yet our international hurricane people realize what we went through and the job that you’ve done.”

“We’re very proud of what you’ve done,” Precinct 3 Commissioner John Dubose told Kelley, who will present a paper on his office’s experiences during Hurricane Ike.

It was not to Kelley’s pleasure, however, to bring before the panel an item about EMS units during evacuations. Commissioners described the idea as “not good” and “chaotic.”

The state has requested that the Catastrophic Medical Operations Center get involved with evacuations in Orange County. CMOC does things a bit differently than the county has in the past, requiring categorization / prioritization of patients’ needs.

Storm surge zones are divided into five “risk areas,” from one through five and based on hurricane category numbers. For instance, if a hurricane is listed as Category 3, residents in risk areas 1 through 3 should be prepared to evacuate.

“What this does is it puts me in a position to have to identify every person in the community – which we have already attempted to do – that needs assistance during an evacuation, particularly with respect to transportation,” Kelley said. “Now we will have to identify them according to storm surge zones and account to their level of special needs … That puts us in a position where [they have to] drive past someone’s house that needs an ambulance for evacuation that may or may not be in worse shape; to get someone else in Storm Surge No. 1 first.”

Kelley said there were about 2,000 Orange Countians registered for special transportation needs.

“We will have to go through the database and take some time to make sure all of this is done correctly,” he said.“I think its chaotic,” said Precinct 4 Commissioner Beamon Minton. “We’ll have more snags than we did before.” Thibodeaux agreed.

“The state’s meddling with a county that has done a good job,” Thibodeaux said. “We did it, we got it done and we evacuated our people. We had a few little snags, and because someone else couldn’t get their job done the state steps in and messes up our system. Leave us alone and we’ll take care of our people. We’ve told them that but it doesn’t work that way.”

Thibodeaux called the system “terrible.”

“You’ve got to pass up Mom and Pop in Zone 2 because you’ve got to pick up someone in Zone 1, where you could pick up “2 and 1” in one trip and that would take care of business. And then you’ve got their relatives asking, ‘Well why didn’t you pick her up? You drove right by my house.’”

Kelley said the county was pursuing “back-up plans” to create other avenues.“There may be a way around it,” he said, “by contracting an EMS firm somewhere else in the United States. We wouldn’t want to contract somebody here that’s already got 10 contracts.”

“I don’t think it’s a good system, but the state seems to think it is, and they control the system,” said Thibodeaux. “We just have to work within it and do the best we can with it, but we’re not comfortable with it. We’re not unhappy with it, but we’re not comfortable either.”

In other business:

• Kelley gave commissioners a final report of hurricane debris picked up within county limits. Of the 700,000 cubic yards originally anticipated, about 560,280 cubic yards were picked up, plus about 60,000 cubic yards through the state department of transportation, he said.  “Our initial estimates turned out to be very close to what we actually encountered out there,” he said.

• Karen Gros with ATM Direct answered questions about a proposal to install ATM machines in the county courthouse and administration buildings in Orange; and in the Vidor sub-courthouse. County Clerk Karen Jo Vance and District Clerk Vickie Edgerly recently cited several problems with payments to the county because some offices do not have debit card readers. Gros said the ATMs would cost the county only minimal telephone fees and no liability on the part of the county if a machine was damaged. Bids will likely be called for on a future commissioners’ agenda.