News : Calls Never Stop Inside Volusia's Citizen Call Center
Daytona Beach, FL, USA, October, 2016 -- The small room inside the emergency operations center was full of blinking lights, ringing telephones and mouths that never stopped moving.
Since news broke that Hurricane Matthew was on course for Volusia County, the citizen information call center — staffed by 14 people wearing headsets — had fielded nearly 4,000 calls from the public through Thursday afternoon.
A day earlier, the stream of calls was so incessant that the lines stayed open until 11:30 p.m. and another long night was expected Thursday as workers ensure questions — about the storm, shelters, evacuation protocols, etc. — are answered.
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"Since we turned the phones on at 8 a.m. this morning, they have not stopped," said Yolanda Buckles, emergency management coordinator for citizen information services. "There has not been a dull moment in that room."
As residents prepare for what's expected to be a Category 4 hurricane, phone calls to the county's emergency operations center have run the gamut. The majority of calls relate to shelters and where they are located, Buckles said, but there have been calls about sandbag locations and bridge closures.
Sometimes callers become emotional and express worry and fear and need a calm, reassuring voice to talk to. Other times, they ask about evacuation procedures and what they can do to get their loved ones who live in coastal regions to leave.
Those are questions without an easy answer.
"We can just put out the message and we've done what we can really do," said Tom Cisco, emergency management operations coordinator, adding that the county doesn't know how many have refused to evacuate. "We can't forcibly go in there and take people out of their homes. We hope people will take it seriously. I mean you can look at the news now and see what is happening south of us. There's no reason to take a chance."
As many as 200 county employees from various departments — including firefighters, animal protection, school district officials, transportation, military support, the Red Cross and more — were expected to hunker down at the EOC building overnight. There are two bunk rooms — one for each gender — with approximately 100 cots.
"This place is ramped up, it's all hands on deck," said county spokeswoman Shelley Szafraniec. "It's a serious storm."
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