Ky. city council to review storm response amid questions from citizens

Lexington officials will review the city’s response to windstorms that knocked out power to thousands, and damaged many homes and businesses


By Beth Musgrave
Lexington Herald-Leader

LEXINGTON, Ky. — The Lexington council will review the city’s response to Friday’s windstorms that knocked out power to thousands of Fayette County residents, damaged many homes and businesses, and shuttered schools for days.

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council voted Tuesday to put an after-action review into the council’s Social Services and Public Safety Committee. A date for that review has not been set.

Trucks with the Public Service Company of Oklahoma sit on Jesselin Drive Monday, March 6, 2023, in Lexington, Ky. The crews were making repairs and putting up new electric poles after a strong wind storm knocked out power to much of Lexington three days earlier.
Trucks with the Public Service Company of Oklahoma sit on Jesselin Drive Monday, March 6, 2023, in Lexington, Ky. The crews were making repairs and putting up new electric poles after a strong wind storm knocked out power to much of Lexington three days earlier. (Photo/Brian Simms)

Councilwoman Whitney Elliott Baxter said she had received multiple questions from constituents about the city’s response — Did the city’s 911 system fail? Why wasn’t a local state of emergency declared sooner? Was the city’s emergency operations center activated?

Pat Dugger, director of emergency operations, said Mayor Linda Gorton declared a local state of emergency on Monday, a few days after the storm hit.

Dugger said local states of emergencies can give local officials certain powers, such as requiring people to move parked cars so city crews can remove snow.

However, the windstorms on Friday did not require additional local powers, Dugger said.

“All the things that a local declaration would have done for us did not apply to this particular event,” she said during a Tuesday council work session.

Local states of emergency can be helpful in processing claims to Federal Emergency Management officials. That’s why Gorton declared the state of emergency Monday, Dugger said.

Damages have to reach a certain threshold to trigger federal resources, she said.

“We recently got close to that,” Dugger said of the amount of damages incurred.

Dugger said there was staff in the city’s emergency operations center on Saturday and Sunday. Staff managed the event remotely on Friday evening.

“The EOC has been working since Saturday morning,” Dugger said.

Baxter said she heard from constituents that it was difficult to reach 911 on Friday evening and heard the system went down.

Enhanced 911 Director Jonelle Patton said the system never went down.

“The calls for 911 continued to come into the center,” Patton said. However, the phone would ring but callers could not hear the person on the phone. The caller’s information was available and operators were able to call the person back.

“This was due to a power surge,” Patton said, which affected 911 across the state.

Patton said they had to switch to an alternative way to answer calls due to the high number received on Friday.

“There was not a time that the public could not call in,” she said. “But due to the high volume, the sheer number of calls, it was just a huge event.”

The city’s 311 center, which takes non-emergency calls and helps people with questions about other city services, was operational on Saturday and Sunday to help deal with storm-related questions, Dugger said.

There have also been questions raised about why no overnight shelters were opened even though thousands were without power.

Mayor Linda Gorton told the council Tuesday the Red Cross does not provide overnight shelters unless homes are damaged or destroyed.

Baxter thanked employees for their work but said she thought it was important the city learn how it can improve.

“In light of the weather event, I think it’s important we do an after-action assessment of our response,” Baxter said.

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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