Officials question Shelby County's emergency readiness

One year after a disaster plan did not work in New Orleans, emergency management leaders say Shelby County is not prepared for a Katrina-sized storm.

Claude Talford, director of the Shelby County Emergency Management Agency, said Tuesday that Katrina was a wake-up call for many that a plan is necessary.

"I don't think anyone in the country had a catastrophic plan," Talford said.

Talford thinks Memphis could handle something like the wind storm of 2003, but large catastrophe would be a different matter. A large part of how well emergency responders will react depends on how much damage there would be.  Talford said events that cannot be forecasted, like a downed bridge blocking an interstate, would play a large role in how fast a response could be made into an affected area.

In a major disaster, according to Talford, Shelby County would need help.  "That is where the state is going to have to come in, or where the federal government is going to have to come in," he said.

Talford said that doesn't mean the EMA hasn't improved its response position drastically in the past few years.  A new communications system for the entire county is just about complete, and a large command and communications vehicle has been ordered. Citizens are also being trained in the CERT program, free training that instructs people on what to do in an emergency in their home, neighborhood, or workplace.

Talford said if an earthquake, windstorm, or some other unforeseeable event happens, citizens must be ready to take care of themselves for a few days.

September is Disaster Preparedness Month, and officials plan to go door to door handing out placards with information citizens need to know in an emergency, including important phone numbers, and how to sign up for CERT training.