Emergency management professionals are prepping for hurricane season now, before storms hit. The Liberty County Emergency Management Agency met with first responders, power companies, the Department of Health and the public to discuss hurricane preparedness last week. The LCEMA briefed attendees on the upcoming hurricane season, detailing its plans should a hurricane occur, and opened up a question session to address people’s concerns.
Bob Dodd, an emergency management specialist with LCEMA, began with an Accuweather forecast for this year’s season, which started June 1. The prediction calls for six to eight potential hurricanes, three to five of them major, and between 12-15 tropical storms.
Dodd briefed attendees on measures the county does and does not take in preparation for hurricane season.
“Liberty County opens no shelters,” Dodd said. “We also do not use outdoor sirens.” It’s important to stay up to date through Alert Liberty, the National Weather Service, Facebook, radio, and TV … as long as it’s a source of current information, he said. Alert Liberty is LCEMA’s emergency alert program. Notification signup is found on libertycountyga.com.
Liberty County has two main evacuation zones. Evacuation zone A encompasses Midway and Riceboro areas. Evacuation zone B is the Flemington and Hinesville areas. GA-144/119 are state roads that will be open for evacuation if necessary, he said. Storm surge is also a huge issue, because most deaths in a hurricane come from storm surges.
“The Shuman Center will be utilized as an Evacuation Assembly Area,” Dodd said. For those needing transportation out of the area, the Shuman Center serves as a transport point to shelters further inland. If evacuating with pets, bring a carrier and shots record, he advised.
There is no guarantee that shelters are close by, officials warned. Angela Hartley, with the Department of Public Health, said that basic shelters for functional needs can be far from home.
“It’s usually in a gym, and with cots to sleep on,” she said. “But a lot of times, people are shocked at how far (away) the shelters can be, upwards of five or six hours of travel time.”
The DPH encourages those with functional, access or medical needs to sign up on its hurricane registry list. This list is maintained by Liberty County’s health department for residents who may require outside help in case of an evacuation. Applications are available at the health department, online, or by calling 1-833-CHD-REGISTER and following the prompts, which routes to the local health department.
“Don’t wait to get on the registry,” Hartley said. “Do it now while there’s time.”
Randy Mayfield, a local manager at Georgia Power, talked about electricity guidelines for hurricanes. He emphasized when there’s a mandatory evacuation, the power line workers go too.
“You won’t see power people out until re-entry is granted, and that could be hours after the storm passes,” Mayfield said.
There is an online map for outages maintained by Georgia Power that allows residents to input their outages and monitor others. He said to have a plan and cut power when you leave, and if staying, buy a generator ahead of time.
“Make sure your generators are properly hooked up,” he said. “Call any local power company and ask for help if you’re unsure.”
Major Jeff Hein spoke on behalf of the Sheriff’s department. When evacuating, take only what you need, follow suggested evacuation routes, and listen only to government sources. Misplaced evacuees created a more confusing situation last year, Hein said.
“Law enforcement is working closely with EMA in cases like this,” he said. “And everyone knows ‘Stevie’, so don’t name drop… all the deputies are working under his orders.” Remember that re-entry won’t be granted without an ID that matches the current home address, Hein said. There were a lot of problems last year with ID’s not matching up, he said.
The department plans to have classes with the deputies to clarify the details concerning re-entry, phases, and disaster plans. The re-entry permits were handled by the state this year, and consist of five phases, with the phases two and three requiring a permit, granted to first responders and the essential public and private sector personnel.
The differences between last year’s two storms have called for different responses post-landfall, Liberty County Administrator Joey Brown said. Matthew was a wind storm, with a lot of wind debris afterwards, versus Irma, mainly a water event with lots of precipitation, according to Brown.
The main thing, he urged, is don’t call 911 unless it’s truly an emergency. Liberty County EMA will make important phone numbers available to the public if needed, Brown said.
To jumpstart attendees’ hurricane preparedness kits, Liberty County EMA raffled off 10 buckets with basic necessities. To find information on recommended items to include in a kit, visit www.ready.ga.gov/build-a-kit/.
“And remember, the official local source is LCEMA,” Brown said. For more information concerning hurricane preparedness, visit www.ready.ga.gov.