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Emergency managers finalize winter storm preparations

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — Hamilton County’s top emergency manager on Wednesday said staying home is the best way people can help emergency workers in the upcoming storm.

A day ahead of the arrival of a major winter storm system, Shane Booker, the executive director of Hamilton County Emergency Management, said many of his team’s preparations at this point are still based on educated guesses. The exact timing and extent of the storm’s impacts won’t become clear until Thursday morning.

“There’s so many complexities there, especially with all the different layers of the atmosphere,” he said. “So for us, it’s really trying to understand what are those impacts going to be and listening to that National Weather Service information that they’re sharing with us.”

Hamilton County was the first county in Indiana to put out a travel advisory ahead of the storm’s arrival, going into effect at 6 a.m. Wednesday. Booker said the point of doing so was to make it clear to people how serious the storm’s impacts would be and to drive home the importance of avoiding nonessential travel.

Booker said black ice will be a major hazard for emergency crews and other drivers. Forecasters expect rain will precede the wind and snow and will freeze rapidly as temperatures drop. Officials with the Hamilton County Highway Department said they are not pre-treating the roads because the rain will wash away any treatments. Wind gusts approaching 50 miles per hour are expected throughout the day on Friday. Booker said this will drastically limit visibility.

“It’s not about, will your vehicle get through 3 inches of snow, it’s about can you see beyond the 3 feet in front of the vehicle,” he said, “and that’s a lot of times where we see people go off the road because they cannot see the road.”

In the meantime, emergency management staff have provided extra shovels, generators and winches to any emergency crews that need them. Staff said most emergency services already have such equipment but the emergency management agency keeps a stockpile in case anybody needs more. Booker said he also has gone over his rosters to make sure he has personnel who can help municipalities with services such as warming shelters. If the Hamilton County Emergency Operations Center is activated, he said he will need to strategies when to bring people in and where to have them sleep during off-duty hours.

Booker said people should not call 911 unless they face a life-threatening emergency. He said this will reduce the traffic on phone lines and lower the workload on dispatchers.