In August 2011, Hurricane Irene was bearing down on Sussex County and the governor had issued a ban on driving. Rehoboth Beach Police Chief Keith Banks said he was besieged with phone calls as business owners sought clarification, because an evacuation order had not yet been given.
For Banks, the storm served as a wake-up call to establish a better emergency operations plan for the city.
Rehoboth has had an emergency operations plan in place since 2005; it is required to be eligible for state and federal funding for disaster relief. But Banks said the plan is too broad and had not been updated since 2005.
The new plan, which Banks presented to the commissioners Feb. 4 provides training for city employees, specifies each department’s job in the event of a disaster and establishes an emergency operations command post and a chain of command. It is expected to be approved Friday, Feb. 15.
The ultimate authority will reside with the mayor and commissioners, with the city manager carrying out their instructions. The commissioners are expected to designate Banks as the emergency management coordinator. The coordinator’s job will be to act as the man on the ground, coordinating city personnel and communicating with the public. Banks said under the revised plan, the mayor can also appoint a public information officer to act as a spokesman.
While the new emergency operations plan was not in place at the time, Banks said the plan was used during the city’s most recent major storm, Hurricane Sandy. He said the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce, among others, were involved in decisions coordinating the response to Sandy, and ensuring better communication with the businesses.
Mayor Sam Cooper said the updated plan has been in the works for more than a year. It provides organizational structure and government continuity, assigns roles and sets out authority in the event of a disaster. Cooper described the plan as “a framework but not a bible.”
Cooper said Banks’ background commanding the police force and the department's resources made him a natural fit for the position of emergency management coordinator.