Storm Troopers: NCSHP Faced Florence as a Team

Group of troopers posing around wooden bunk beds
Tuesday, November 6, 2018 - 1:40pm
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 State Highway Patrol.

If Hurricane Florence had been a motorist driving through North Carolina, she would have gotten a ticket for going too slow. The storm took its time moving across the state, crawling at 5 mph during a four-day period, dumping gallons of water and battering eastern NC counties. 

Even before Hurricane Florence devastated many parts of NC, State Highway Patrol (NCSHP) personnel sprang into action as the storm churned in the Atlantic to ensure a swift and effective response once the hurricane made landfall. Though traffic flow significantly increased on westbound lanes as residents and visitors evacuated, Troopers kept traffic moving by responding to collisions, stalled vehicles and other calls for service to ensure all lanes were clear. 

In total, 433 troopers were deployed from outside of their normal patrol areas throughout the storm. They joined around 400 troopers who were already covering counties that were expected to be hit hard by Hurricane Florence. 

As Hurricane Florence slammed coastal counties with rain, wind and storm surge, NCSHP personnel assisted search and rescue efforts and evacuations while continuing to monitor roadways. Troopers responded to hundreds of calls for service that were related to the storm, on top of setting up blockades and removing hazardous debris from roadways. 

The day after Florence made landfall, Colonel Glenn McNeill, commander of the State Highway Patrol, joined Governor Roy Cooper in an evening press brief to urge out-of-state motorists to avoid driving through the state if possible.

Keeping up with road closures during and after Hurricane Florence passed was no easy task, but troopers worked closely with NC Department of Transportation (NCDOT) employees to close off roads and redirect traffic to alternate routes. Heavy rainfall and cresting rivers would lead to more than 800 road closures, as well as large portions of I-95 and I-40 closing for several days. Some troopers even stationed themselves at blockaded roads at night to ensure motorists would not risk their lives by driving around barricades.

State Troopers worked alongside state emergency management officials during all stages of Hurricane Florence to spread public safety messages and draw attention to the dangerous road conditions and other storm related threats. 

“Our primary message – whether through social media or traditional news outlets - was to keep motorists off flooded roads and out of harm’s way. Our goal was to share regular updates about travel conditions in the affected areas to keep people safe and make the jobs of troopers working in those areas a bit easier,” said First Sargent Michael Baker. 

Post-storm debris, floodwaters and washed out roadways made driving around the state extremely hazardous for a little over a week after the storm. Long after Hurricane Florence was gone, NCSHP continued partnering with NCDOT to monitor roadways in areas with cresting rivers, block hazardous roadways and fly UAS “drone” missions to assess widespread flood damage in areas that were impassable by vehicles. 

Many NCSHP members went beyond the call of duty to serve alongside community, state and federal partners to deliver supplies to survivors, pack water and donated resources and assist their neighbors with debris removal. 

“Though many of our troopers were directly affected by the storm, they placed the needs of others ahead of their own circumstances,” said Colonel McNeill. “Through networking and collaboration with our partners, the Patrol demonstrated how they face adversity as a team.”

After working throughout the three-week storm activation, troopers who were pulled from their regular stations returned to their districts. All patrol members continue to play an active role in North Carolina’s recovery, whether on the road or helping rebuild efforts at home.   

Kirsten Barber, Digital Media Specialist