When this is all over, Regina Myers needs a break. Preferably an extended vacation somewhere tropical, but even a trip to a salon will do. Because between a pandemic and the recent storm activity, Myers has been awfully busy.
This Wednesday morning, Myers and a group of volunteers performed a walking assessment of storm damage to the Carbon Hill area caused by a tornado that ripped through the small west Walker County town this past Sunday. As Walker County EMA Coordinator, part of Myers’ responsibility is working with assessment teams to apply for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance when disaster strikes. “We have a threshold for FEMA to assist us in the county,” Myers says.
Over the last few days, Myers has been conducting initial “windshield” assessments, i.e. initial drive-thrus that determine the extent of impact, coordinating volunteer groups that assist in feeding local residents, and recruiting EMAs from other counties to help with the response.
Myers says that although the storm’s swath was limited to a mile or so, it did heavy damage to homes as well as the communications tower and equipment room used by the Carbon Hill Fire Department.
“Anytime we have people’s homes destroyed it’s pretty devastating,” she says.
Most of Myers’ duties for the EMA have to do with weather, and to that end her role is both proactive and reactive. She says that there are 4 phases of emergency management: preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation. She spends much of her time working on disaster preparedness, developing plans with respect to Emergency Support Functions (ESFs)—jargon to you and me but an essential county function. Imagining the wheel of a bicycle, the EMA is like the hub with many spokes during an emergency. Those ESFs may extend to local law enforcement, volunteers, fire department, paramedics, or even the Salvation Army or American Red Cross, and it’s Regina’s job to mold chaos into a symphony. “We get to work with law enforcement, 911 and the fire department, among others,” she says. “It’s like one big family.
In the course of her job, Myers may be called upon for any emergency situation, including drownings, bomb threats, hazardous weather conditions, and hazardous material spills. She oversees the cleanup of those spills and ensures the safety of vehicles to getting back on the roadway. Working in concert with the National Weather Service, she’s the person that provides a heads-up when severe weather is headed our way.
In the mitigation phase of emergency management, Myers tries to understand what might have gone wrong and take the necessary steps to prevent the same from happening in the future. This may include the installation of a shelter or siren or repairing a road that has been washed out.
In many instances, this is not a job for the faint of heart. Myers has witnessed fatalities and other scenes that would shock the memory. “You have to want to help people and you have to be tough skinned, because we do see a lot of really bad stuff,” Myers says. “You have to love what you do. It has to be in you to do it. It can’t just be a job.”
In addition to providing disaster relief from the recent storms, Myers has been working with the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) to disseminate Personal Protective Equipment (masks, face shields, and gowns) to medical facilities, including hospitals and nursing homes. She also works with Jasper police on enforcing the COVID-19 health orders issued by the state of Alabama and is the county’s liaison with the Department of Homeland Security.
But the work isn’t over when Myers goes home. She also has to homeschool her 12-year-old daughter, who is a seventh grader at Oakman Middle School.
So with all the work Myers does, thankfully she has the help of several other capable individuals on her staff, right? Wrong.
When asked how many other persons work in her department, Regina’s response is “just me.”
Hopefully soon, Myers can get that break she deserves. In the meantime, she’s waiting patiently for things to go back to normal.
“I need to get my hair done,” she laughs. 78
All photos by Al Blanton