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Hurricane Town Hall Recap

By Lynn Lewis - lynnl@landings.org
Communications Manager

More than 120 residents turned out on June 12 for The Landings Association’s Annual Hurricane Town Hall Meeting at Plantation Club.

Chatham Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) Director Dennis Jones and Emergency Management Specialist in Community Outreach Chelsea Sawyer presented information on Hurricane Preparedness.

Jones opened the meeting by allowing the group to ask Hurricane-related questions they wanted addressed during the discussion. The questions and their answers can be found at the end of this article. After the question-and-answer session, he reminded residents never to underestimate a storm and to leave immediately when an evacuation order is issued.

“What Category Storm was Hurricane Matthew?” Jones asked the crowd. “It was classified as Category 1 on the edge of Tybee. However, in all other parts of our area, it was a tropical storm. Think about that. A tropical storm resulted in 1.6 million cubic feet of debris and $58 million of damage in unincorporated Chatham County.”

Jones wrapped up his part of the presentation by reminding residents to remember that in a hurricane, you must run from the water and hide from the wind, as more victims die from water than wind in a hurricane.

Sawyer picked up the discussion and explained to the crowd that Hurricane Season runs from June 1 to November 30, with peak season being September. She assured the group that CEMA makes a point to monitor every storm that has the potential to impact Chatham County and informs residents accordingly. She added that one thing CEMA noticed during hurricanes Matthew and Irma is that some people worry needlessly over what is known as the Cone of Uncertainty of hurricanes. Although this cone contains the probable path of the storm center, it does not show the impact or size of the storm, which means hazardous conditions can occur outside of the cone.

“Even if your area is not within this cone, I encourage you to ask yourself more clarifying questions, such as is storm surge a possibility or could a tornado spawn from this hurricane. Whatever you do, don’t make your sole evacuation decision based on the fact you are not in the cone of uncertainty.”

Sawyer encouraged the group to pay close attention to all CEMA-issued information during a potential hurricane or severe weather event. She reminded residents that Chatham County’s evacuation zones were updated a few years ago, and The Landings falls within Zone A, which is the first group that will be evacuated. She explained that a general evacuation means that the decision to evacuate is left to the discretion of individuals (though strongly encouraged), whereas a mandatory evacuation means personal discretion is not an option. If an evacuation order is issued, Sawyer said she urges everyone in Chatham County to leave.

“Chatham County has one of the greatest storm surge potentials on the East Coast,” she said. “Knowing about this surge potential is a very good reason to be prepared and evacuate if an order is issued.”

After explaining what to expect when an evacuation order is issued, Sawyer switched gears to having a plan and being prepared.

“Having a plan now will save time when seconds count,” she said. “Remember to take your bills, because even if your lights are out, Georgia Power expects to get paid, and the same goes for your other bills. Additionally, don’t forget to take cash. If the power is out, debit and credit cards will not work.”

Sawyer said a safe bet is to plan to be away from home a minimum of three days. Pack food, medications, hygiene supplies, first aid supplies, and general supplies.

“Please don’t be one of those people who purchases a pre-made kit from Amazon,” she said. “You want to have items that will make you comfortable, including your favorite bodywash or hair gel. Think about it. If you hate tuna, why would you buy a kit filled with tuna? Take some time and pick up items that you prefer when you are out and about doing your grocery shopping. Also, don’t forget to pack items for your pets, and please don’t leave them behind.”

Sawyer then shared the re-entry plan for Chatham County. As of June 1, 2018, Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) controls all re-entry passes for the State of Georgia. Passes are required for phases one through three of the five-phase re-entry plan. The following phases and their explanation are as follows:

  • Phase 1: Render Safe Task Force - This includes teams who wok to render the area safe for first responders to conduct life and safety operations during phase 2. This phase requires a re-entry permit.
  • Phase 2: Life-Safety Workforce - This phase includes first responders and others who conduct life and safety operations. This phase requires a reentry permit.
  • Phase 3: Essential Public and Private Sector Personnel - This phase includes individuals in the public and private sector who can restore essential operations, services, and commerce. This includes members of the media. This phase also requires a permit.
  • Phase 4: Local residents, property owners, and business owners - In this phase, access may be restricted to specific areas, and a curfew may be in place. This phase requires a valid, state-issued identification and an address in the impacted area or valid state-issued photo identification with proof of residency.
  • Phase 5: Open to the public with limited access - Local officials will have determined the County, or portions of the County, are relatively safe for entrance by the public. Restrictions and curfews may be used during this phase.

Sawyer encouraged residents to visit CEMA’s website (www.chathamemergency.org) when preparing their hurricane plans. On the website, residents can sign up for CEMA alerts, Twitter notifications, and even phone notifications through Swift911. CEMA will offer a Citizen’s Hurricane Academy on July 20 from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Savannah High School (400 Pennsylvania Avenue).  During this free event, residents will hear from experts regarding flood zones, evacuation procedures, hurricane facts from the National Weather Service, and how they can make a difference following a disaster in our community. CEMA’s website also has more details and resources for preparing for hurricanes and other emergencies.

Don’t forget, The Landings Association offers Swift911 Emergency service exclusively for Landings Residents. To sign up, visit www.landings.org/swift911. If you or someone you know is missing out on Landings Association messages and news, please email us (webmaster@landings.org) or visit our website (www.landings.org) and click Login.

The complete PowerPoint presentation from the meeting can be viewed by clicking 2019 Hurricane Town Hall Meeting-CEMA.

Q. During Hurricane Matthew, we stayed here, and I put some of my valuables that I didn’t want to get destroyed in the trunk of my car. Was this a good idea?

A. Yes. During severe weather events, some people even use their dishwasher to store valuables because it is sealed and waterproof. It also is wise to back up documents on a flash drive and take them with you when you evacuate.

Q. With everything so electronic, how much do we really need with us when we evacuate? Won’t everything be available to us at a hotel?

A. Hopefully you are evacuating to a place that will have internet connectivity, etc. As for emergency officials like CEMA, the State makes Peach State Public Radio available to us, and if everything goes down, this will be our only means of communication.

Q. There was lots of flooding in The Landings during Hurricane Irma, even in places that never had flooded before. Has this been studied?

A. Yes, we have done extensive evaluation of storm surge, and because Hurricane Irma hit just south of us, it produced a greater storm surge. It is important to bear in mind that the surge from Irma wasn’t the worst that could be, so it is important to evacuate when an order is issued.

Q. How do you find the best route to travel out when an evacuation is issued?

A. You should travel any road that goes west, including highways 204, 80 16, 17, 25, and Interstate 16. We encourage to consider a couple of routes in case you need a backup plan.

Q. What category of storm would be catastrophic to The Landings?

A. Category 3.

Q. Is there anywhere that provides provisions for the handicapped during a mandatory evacuation?

A. Yes, The There is a Special Needs Registry offered through Coastal Health District for those with functional, access, or medical needs. For more information, call 1-833-CHD-REGISTER.

Q. What do you think is the greatest failure on the part of residents in our County during a hurricane evacuation?

A. Not having a plan and not being prepared.

Q. How far would you recommend people evacuate?

A. Evacuation is personal, and there is no minimum recommended distance. The choice is up to the individual.

Q. When an evacuation is issued, does CEMA offer a list of hotels going west that are available?

A. Yes. During a hurricane, CEMA will make this list available on our website, through the media, and on social media.

Q. Does every state follow the same evacuation plan? It seemed South Carolina was treated differently during Hurricane Matthew.

A. South Carolina and Georgia had the same evacuation plan in place. However, because South Carolina announced their plan first, it appeared to some people as though Georgia had not yet made a plan. The biggest difference between our two states is that in South Carolina the Governor issues evacuation orders. However, in Georgia, the decisions are made at the local level because we are a home rule state.

Q. Who makes the decision to Contraflow (reverse) the lanes during an evacuation?

A. Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT).