By Kurt Pickering
Even amid a disaster recovery, North Carolina took a moment Wednesday to thank one of its own.
Mike Bolch was born and raised in Gastonia and is currently running two disaster recoveries out of the Joint Field Office in Hickory. These are his eighth and ninth disasters as Federal Coordinating Officer in the state of his birth, and N.C. Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry surprised Bolch with a plaque citing his “superior leadership, work ethic and technical expertise.”
Mike's family first came to the area more than 250 years ago – in fact settling in Catawba County, which includes Hickory. He first left Gastonia in 1969, joining the Navy and becoming a reactor operator who served on two nuclear-powered submarines. Honorably discharged in 1975, he came home and put his experience to work at Duke Energy’s McGuire Nuclear Station. In 1981, Duke made him Emergency Response Manager at its Catawba Nuclear Station, and in 1985 he earned his college degree from Queens College in Charlotte.
He left Duke two years later but continued in his field, managing radiological emergency planning for the Browns Ferry and Turkey Point nuclear power plants. After working as an independent consultant in emergency management, he joined FEMA in 2000. He has worked more than 40 disasters, mostly as the Federal Coordinating Officer. In his home state, he has led federal recovery efforts for three ice storms, Hurricane Hannah, the 2011 tornadoes in the eastern part of the state, Hurricane Irene and all three of this year’s declarations.
The year 2013 began with flooding in western North Carolina that brought the historic first direct-tribal declaration to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Then Bolch – who is planning to retire in January – came home for what he thought would be his last disaster after 13 western counties were designated in a declaration resulting from July flooding. It turned out he had one more in him, though – a second disaster was later declared for flooding from a subsequent storm.
Mike and his wife Debbie live in Marietta, Ga., but are planning to come home to Iredell County when he retires. Debbie is also a North Carolinian, a Charlotte native who taught high school in her hometown for many years. Bolch is proud to say three of his four children and all of his four grandchildren live in North Carolina.