Flooded with a cause
By: TONY MARKS
For Liz Hill, her time spent as the director of Evangeline Parish 911 and the Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP) has been a “very rewarding” career.
“It’s very rewarding when we’re able to help those people that are in need,” she stated. “It’s very stressful at times. It takes a lot of planning and thought processing to get some of the jobs done. A lot of times because we’re in a small parish we have to think outside the box to get things done.”
Before Hill began this career that has provided her the opportunity to help people during disastrous times, she received her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Northeastern Louisiana University. She then began working for Sheriff Wayne Morein as his court deputy before leaving to attend the police academy. Upon completion of the academy, she spent time working for ULL in Lafayette. She was called back home to Ville Platte to fill a position with 911 in 1995 as the assistant director and then as the director.
As director of 911/OEP, Hill’s greatest task is providing for the residents of Evangeline Parish when disaster strikes. The job comes with certain challenges being in a rural parish, but she is able to lean on others to get the job done.
“We in Evangeline Parish don’t have the money or the means to have the heavy equipment like Lafayette or Baton Rouge may have to help out in some of these instances,” she added, “but if we are all working together, it seems that it does work. We can lean on each other and get the equipment that we need and get things taken care of.”
Weather related events that stand out in her mind are the Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustave, and Ike. “Those were pretty hectic,” she said. “We had a lot of people here from Katrina. We had probably over 2,000 evacuees that had come to Chicot Park. That caused a problem because they were coming and buying supplies, and our locals were doing without milk, bread, and things like that because we couldn’t get commodities brought in.”
Hill was more concerned about the tornados after the hurricanes because “those are unpredictable.” She said, “At least we can see when the hurricanes are coming and get more prepared each day for them.”
Other memorable weather events that she recalled were the snow storms from a couple of years ago. “We had extreme ice that caused a lot of problems on the highways especially on the Vidrine Road that is lined with trees,” she said. “Ice stayed there for a longer period of time. They ended up having to close that road because there were too many accidents where people were going into the ditch and getting stuck.”
Natural disasters are not the only calls to which Hill has to respond. She also has what she calls “man-made disasters” like gas well explosions. “Those usually cause an evacuation,” she said. “We have to set up a shelter somewhere or at least find housing for those people that have to be removed because of the potential dangers that are around them.”
As another storm approaches, her OEP office has already been flooded with weather related calls over the past year. “The August flooding affected a lot of people in the parish and in the municipalities,” she said. “Our phones were quite busy with people calling for assistance wanting to know where to get sand bags and wanting to know if FEMA was going to come help. Myself and some of the dispatchers stayed overnight just to make sure that we were able to help in case any phone calls came in through the night.”
“The Spring flood was bad for the Mamou area,” she continued. “It was more concentrated there. We worked close with Mayor Ricky Fontenot to assist them in whatever they may have needed.”
Whenever her OEP office gets a call of a coming weather disaster, Hill holds conference calls twice a day with the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and the National Weather Service in Lake Charles.
“What we then try to do is get the elected officials and those agencies that have to do with public works together in one room to discuss a plan of action to take,” she said. “They get to view the weather presentation that’s given, and they get to make their own decisions based on what they heard.”
Whenever there is not a disaster, Hill’s typical day is spent as directing the parish’s 911 office. “A typical day is answering the 911 calls that come in,” she stated. “Most of the calls we’ve gotten lately involve the high speed chases. So we’re able to connect callers to the agency they need to be connected to.”
“We do a lot of addressing for the public here,” she continued. “If you’re moving here and getting a new address, that’s part of the 911 job that we do as far as assigning them addresses. We handle a lot of phone calls from people wanting to know where a certain road is and handle a lot of people walking in wanting information on what they need to get their permits for their house or to put a trailer.”
Hill’s time spent as director of 911/OEP has opened many doors for her such as being able to serve on different committees, but the biggest door that opened for her is being involved in the community.
“I do a lot of community outreach especially with the elderly, so I feel like I’ve gotten a good relationship with the elderly in the parish as well as making sure they’re taken care of when they call 911.”
“Some of the elderly are afraid to call,” she added. “They don’t want to be a burden. I try to reassure them that they can call 911 at anytime, and they won’t get in trouble for that. It’s nice to know that we’re able to help people.”
Hill would not be able to help the residents of Evangeline Parish without her staff. “Out of the 22 years that I’ve been here, most of the staff have been here at least 15 or 20 years,” she said. “We kind of all developed this all together, and it’s nice to have a staff that’s on your side.”