Juvenile Justice Operations During Hurricane Florence

Monday, October 29, 2018 - 9:31am
Storm Response Series: While North Carolina braced for Hurricane Florence, numerous NC Public Safety agencies joined in the storm preparations, response and recovery. Today's blog provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the efforts of the juvenile justice employees.

The 2018 hurricane season tested the mettle of North Carolinians across the state.  I’m always moved by how these events bring out the very best in people and this year was no different.  While two storms (with completely different personalities) tried their best to soak our collective spirit, instincts took over, prompting people to aid neighbor and community in the manner we always do. North Carolinians take adversity head on - together.

The Juvenile Justice section of the Department of Public Safety started taking action when the first storm was still in warm South Atlantic waters. Though better than a week out, the JJ team had already identified facilities that could potentially be affected should the storm make landfall according to one of several path projections. 

“There are so many variables to consider when a storm is approaching, and our primary mission is the safety and security of youth and staff who could be squarely in harm’s way,” stated Juvenile Facility Operations Director Jim Speight.  A plan was developed following the early decision to evacuate. “Our facilities are not large to begin with, which makes the logistics of transferring from one to another more involved,” stated Speight. “(Difficulties arise also with…) the variety of security issues involved in moving that many people within a small window of opportunity.”

As we now know, the slow-moving eye of Florence officially made landfall around Wrightsville Beach at 7:15 a.m. but rains had already begun to deposit record rainfalls well before then. By this time, juveniles from New Hanover County and Pitt County had already been relocated early in the week and had been allowed additional phone calls to stay in touch with family during the event. 

“Storms of this magnitude cause great stress and anxiety on people, so we wanted to put families at ease by keeping them in contact,”, stated Assistant Facilities Operations Director Angela Smith. Evacuation plans were also made for the Cabarrus County facility but did not require implementation. Even those facilities throughout the central and eastern areas of the state (not in Florence’s path) created a disaster preparedness plan - stockpiling additional resources should they be needed.

Staff members of the affected facilities were also released to evacuate their families to safety, yet many of those employees stayed with the youths in order to maintain consistency. Trust is something that is built by juvenile justice staffers in residential facilities, so staying visible to them played a role in keeping anxiety down. Some simply turned their attention to their communities by serving in shelters, aiding neighbors or providing meals for crews who worked tirelessly in the aftermath to restore connections to the outside world.  Again, they banded together as a community whether for the cause of Juvenile Justice or for the neighborhood they share with others. Perhaps it’s the caring environment they are accustomed to working within at their respective facilities, but the JJ team certainly fulfilled critical roles in maintaining the level of professionalism, safety and security we’ve come to expect from them.

Matt Jenkins, Communications Officer