Hurricane Natasha was a fake storm, but Mississippi’s emergency responders treated it like it was the real thing.
Natasha was a simulated Category 3 hurricane used Wednesday as part of a training exercise for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and other agencies to review what they’ll do should a real storm strike the state.
The Atlantic hurricane season begins Friday and runs through Nov. 30, but there has already been two named tropical systems this year, including Beryl, a tropical storm that dumped heavy rain on parts of the East coast this week.
Forecasters are predicting a normal year with nine to 15 tropical storms and the possibility that four to eight could become hurricanes. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says one to three could be major hurricanes.
The drill is meant to be an annual event leading up to hurricane season, but it didn’t happen last year because officials were dealing with some very real disasters, the historic flooding on the Mississippi River and tornadoes that ripped across the South.
The drill also gives state agency leaders a chance to discuss emergency procedures with Gov. Phil Bryant, who’s facing his first hurricane season as governor. The drill mimics the cabinet meetings that would take place during a real storm.
Nearly 30 organizations were represented during the exercise at MEMA headquarters, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the state Department of Health, Red Cross and county officials. Dozens of people in a control room lined with large screens manned computer stations as the mock storm approached the coast.
Bryant said during a news conference after the drill that he and other officials are making an effort this year to emphasize that Mississippi residents need prepare themselves for hurricane season, including by stocking supplies and having emergency plans.
“Your preparedness is your first responsibility,” Bryant said.
MEMA spokesman Greg Flynn said the simulated storm took a made-up path similar to the real path taken by Katrina in 2005.
Even animal health officials were on hand.
“One of the biggest things we’ve learned is that people won’t evacuate without their pets,” Flynn said. Pet-friendly shelters have been part of the solution.
MEMA spokesman Jeff Rent said the agency has made some changes since Katrina wrecked the Gulf Coast in 2005, including adding more people positioned throughout the state to coordinate the response and increasing shelter capacity.