ROBERTSDALE, Alabama — Residents of Baldwin County know all too well the devastation that can be caused by hurricanes along the Gulf Coast, particularly after Hurricane Sally blew through the area last September causing mass destruction in its wake.
While last year’s storms were a reminder that residents need to always be prepared before the storms, Monde M. Donaldson, vice president of the Better Business Bureau Educational Foundation, said residents also need to be aware that scammers can cause just as much devastation in a storm’s aftermath.
“We want to make sure everyone is prepared before and after storms,” Donaldson said. “Knowing what to do before and after an emergency is a critical part of being prepared and may make all the difference when it comes to protecting yourself and loved ones.”
Donaldson made a presentation on Monday, June 21 as the Baldwin County Local Emergency Planning Committee held its first in-person full-body meeting in more than a year at the Baldwin County Central Annex in Robertsdale.
The Better Business Bureau is an international organization which helps establish and ensure marketplace trust by setting marketplace standards, calling out bad business practices, building business-consumer relations, investigating fraud and scam reports and providing educational resources.
“We want to work together to let people know when businesses are doing things right, and call businesses out when they are doing things wrong,” Donaldson said.
While the Better Business Bureau has been operating internationally for over 100 years, it was incorporated locally in 1954, serving over 4,100 accredited businesses and overseeing 50 of Alabama’s 67 counties from two offices, Mobile and Birmingham.
One of the most important aspects of avoiding a scam following a storm is to be able to avoid “storm chasers,” Donaldson said.
“These are not the storm chasers that you are familiar with,” Donaldson said. “These are high-pressure salesmen that show up in an area after a storm to prey on those who have been devastated.”
Tips to avoid “storm chasers” include:
Additional tips include documenting all damage incurred, don’t make any of the repairs yourself unless they are minor or temporary; get written estimates, never pay in cash and read all documents before signing anything.
The Better Business Bureau can also provide tools to avoid scammers, including a scam tracker which allows those seeking help to see where the highest concentration of “storm chasers” are after a storm, Donaldson said.
The Better Business Bureau’s Mobile office is located at 150 Government Street Suite 1004. For more information call 251-433-5494 or visit BBB.org.
The Baldwin County Local Emergency Planning Committee is nearing completion of its updated Hazardous Material Response Plan, officials said on Monday.
The committee is comprised of local first responders, representatives from hospitals and health agencies, volunteer organizations and members of the private sector.
Meetings include committee reports, including a shelter report, medical health, law enforcement, fire services, industry and Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD).
An act of the State Legislature passed in 1986 requires that each county maintain an LEPC for the purposes of identifying companies that store and transport hazardous materials, provide oversight for the proper disposal of those materials and have an action plan in place should a disaster occur involving hazardous materials.
Revisions to the plan are required by FEMA every five years. The last revision to the plan was produced in 2015-16.
Also at Monday’s meeting, Zach Hood, director of the Baldwin County Emergency Management Agency, said EMA will host area-specific disaster preparedness training the first week of August, held in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“Prior to this, the only places that have hosted this type of training have been the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico,” Hood said. “This will be the first time such training will be held at the county level and this will be an important tool to help us see what we are doing right and things we need to work on as far as being prepared for a disaster.”
The training will focus on three areas, Hood said, hazardous materials and fire response, getting information to the public, and health and medical response.
Upcoming meetings include a LEPC Steering Committee Meeting at 10 a.m. July 14 at the Emergency Operations Center in Robertsdale. The next full body meeting will be held at 10:30 a.m. Sept. 20 at the Foley Civic Center. Meetings are open to the public.