Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Richard H. Moore, August 2, 2002. Interview K-0598. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Implementation of bureaucratic changes leading up to Hurricane Floyd

Moore describes the build-up of Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and discusses briefly how the flooding immediately began to affect eastern North Carolina. Moore goes on to discuss the bureaucratic reaction to the storm, which he orchestrated as the head of Crime Control and Public Safety. Moore had hired Eric Tolbert as Director of Emergency Management prior to the storm and he describes the changes they had implemented following Hurricane Fran in 1996. According to Moore, during the three year interim between the storms, state government had developed a more efficient approach to emergency management. In particular, he stresses the new role of computers in improving communication.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Richard H. Moore, August 2, 2002. Interview K-0598. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

LEDA HARTMAN:
I can't imagine what that must have been like personally with Floyd because I'm sure that was the storm to beat all the others.
RICHARD MOORE:
It really was. The unbelievable part about Floyd was, you know, Floyd was a monster when it was formed. Floyd was a storm that approached Andrew and Hugo, the kind of storm that can kill tens of thousands of people. As it formed and you saw the satellite images of it, and it was a category five which is the most powerful, it's really quite frightening. Rarely do we have a perfect storm form, and when I mean perfect I mean the size of it and the shape of it. It's almost beautiful in a powerful, scary kind of way.
LEDA HARTMAN:
A macabre way.
RICHARD MOORE:
That's right. That's right, but to know that nature can create something with that perfect symmetry of the power. As it began to form and as it began to threaten Florida, and then Georgia, and then South Carolina, and then North Carolina, and I'll get into more detail in this but the path within North Carolina changed itself three times. Then ultimately the wind part of the storm was really no big deal. I remember having watched through this having a tremendous sigh of relief and heading home about three o'clock in the morning to take a break, change clothes, take a shower, grab a nap, and I walk inߞthis is a home that my wife and I have here in Raleighߞand I walk in, and I'm just about to go up the steps, and I hear the sound of a waterfall, and I can't imagine what it is. So I go down the basement steps, and that was a waterfall in my basement rapidly filling up. Apparently the storm drains, the sewer system was backing into our home which, of course, happened all over North Carolina, but that was my first personal indication that something different was going on in this storm.
LEDA HARTMAN:
You didn't get off as easily as you thought you were going to.
RICHARD MOORE:
No, no, no. Like a lot of people in the emergency management business, I had a couple of neighbors come over. We moved a couple of pieces of furniture up, but basically I had to tell my wife, "You've got to handle this. I've got millions of folks counting on stuff I've got to do," and basically left a mess at home, as did many, many, many National Guardsmen, and law enforcement and emergency workers.
LEDA HARTMAN:
Absolutely, and I've actually talked with some in the eastern part of the state who had their own homes flooded, and they didn't know where all their family members were, and they were going out and helping other people. It's quite remarkable.
RICHARD MOORE:
It really is.
LEDA HARTMAN:
It happened with you, too.
RICHARD MOORE:
It did. It did. It happened with me, and that's just the thing that is just so remarkable about Floyd in particular, that you see the very, very best in human nature. I think that's what's been so powerful for me because in many ways because of the time I spent on TV and radio in my role, I kind of became the public face of the storm, and I'm the person that got all the thank yous, and I didn't deserve them. I had a real connection that you rarely have in government or public policy to feel the outpouring of gratitude from tens of thousands of people all over eastern North Carolina because of all these Herculean efforts. People just didn't care. They wanted to do whatever it took to help their neighbor, who they didn't even know.
LEDA HARTMAN:
Right, right, but got to know. Can you describe the bureaucracy for me?
RICHARD MOORE:
Sure.
LEDA HARTMAN:
In terms of the organizational structure in the state, what agency was charged with providing what relief service?
RICHARD MOORE:
Sure, and it's actually one of the things that I'm most proud of. We, with the help of Eric Tolbert who I hired to be the Director of Emergency Management, with Governor Hunt's blessing of course, a North Carolina native who had gone down to Florida after Andrew and really had incredible organizational skills. One of the things that we had done between the time that Hurricane Fran hit and the time Hurricane Floyd hit is we had changed the way we were organized from a bureaucratic standpoint. The emergency management system in North Carolina and, indeed, in the country is set up as a chain of command. The on-the-ground position is a county emergency management coordinator. The only way that the system works and the reason that it works so well is if you're in a county and you've got a problem with the school, or with the city, stop lights, or anything you need to channel those requests through one person in a county, and then that person channels that request to emergency management here in Raleigh in the basement of the administrative building, the bunker over there where we've all spent so many hours. Thank goodness no one has spent any time there the last couple of years. So the problem or the needs come up through the county. We did a lot of education [of] the principal of the school or the mayor of the town so they knew they didn't need to call Raleigh directly. They needed to get that person, and most of the counties had an emergency center, and most people knew where it was. Then at the receiving end we control the tasking of all state, federal, and local resources. We prioritized and then send it back down. That, in a nutshell, is the way the system worked. But one of the things that we had changed tremendously is we used to do business by telephone. Gosh, we'd have seventy-five phones over there in the basement of the administration building. Just that summer we had gotten software written. We had gotten a grant from the Federal Government. We'd given a laptop to every county emergency management coordinator. We had training on how to use it, so when the request came in at the county level they were typed in by the EM coordinator, and in many instances we have regional EM state employees that were out there with those folks, but then the software automatically prioritized the request. It was so weird to have been through Fran, Bonnie, Bertha, not Dennis because we had the new system in place for Dennis but Dennis was just so concentrated on one area, so instead of hearing the phone ring like crazy and having all these people, we took this whole room, and we gave all the agencies a room outside, and there were about four of us sitting, and just about as quiet as it is now at this table, with the clicking of a laptop looking at the screen helping prioritize with the computer. But we cut our response time down from, in some instances, ninety-minutes, two hours to always less than five minutes. It's great comfort that I know as we were battling against this slow tidal wave of Floyd, sending volunteer fire departments into towns in the middle of the night, waking people up, getting them out of their house[s], that that time savings in that software I know saved lives. It's a wonderful feeling.