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Don't panic, WEMA says
Feb 21, 2007 12:00 am
Rumors swirled Friday about a short-lived run on a branch of AmSouth bank in Mt. Juliet. A few customers, reports said, asked to withdraw all their money from the bank in fear of what would happen to their savings if the dam at Wolf Creek failed.
Though Mt. Juliet AmSouth branch manager Tammy Green said she was not aware of any patrons actually behaving like the terrified customers in the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" last week, the rumor raises the specter of panic in the minds of some locals when it comes to the possibility of rising water after a Wolf Creek failure.
According to officials at the Wilson County Emergency Management Agency, fear is the most dangerous enemy of an orderly and safe aftermath to any disaster – especially one on the scale of a Wolf Creek failure.
"The purpose of planning ahead is to prevent panic," WEMA spokeswoman Jennifer Harmon said in a recent interview. "The county is ready for this. We're just trying to make sure the people are too."
In the information age, where so much of what people do is stored electronically, banks and other similar institutions are fundamentally immune to the effects of a isolated disaster – no matter how much it may affect a given local area. Even if the bank branch a customer normally visits is knocked out by the flood, the money deposited inside it will not be, AmSouth corporate representatives said. Funds will be available through ATMs outside the flooded area, and other branches will be able to provide seamless access to savings accounts and other forms of investment.
"We have contingency plans in place in the event of any type of emergency," said Pat Martin director of Public Relations for AmSouth. "Our customers have nothing to worry about but their own safety."
WEMA officials agree. Inside the many pages of the agency's thick Wolf Creek response plan lie contingencies designed to keep law enforcement and other essential government services up and running after a breach.
Leaders at WEMA say all county residents need to worry about is their families and themselves. Should they ever come, flood waters will rise slowly – government projections say it will take five full days before a Wolf Creek flood reaches its highest level in Wilson County. That gives people plenty of time to evacuate before things get bad.
According to Dr. Melissa Riley, WEMA's point woman on Wolf Creek, a safe and complete evacuation is her agency's highest priority.
"Everyone who needs to get out will get out," she said recently. "If you can't drive yourself out, we'll drive you out."
The WEMA plan also includes an extensive warning system in the event of a failure at the dam. Word of a coming flood will not be easy to miss. Air raid sirens will be sounded, local TV and radio stations will broadcast the news and WEMA trucks equipped with public address systems will cruise through neighborhoods in danger of being flooded repeatedly broadcasting the order to evacuate. Finally, law enforcement crews will sweep through those same neighborhoods, checking door to door to make sure every one is safely out of danger.
Irrational behavior – like emptying a bank account – does nothing to make a family prepared for any potential emergency. WEMA officials say methodical planning is the key.
"The very last thing we need is a bunch of scared people running around," Riley said in the recent interview. "People need to know that we're going to have things under control."
Mt. Juliet News Managing Editor Laurie Everett contributed reporting to this story
Staff Writer Evan McMorris-Santoro can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 16 or firstname.lastname@example.org