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Don't be complacent about hurricanes
Jim Butterworth GEMA
Jim Butterworth is the director of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security. He is responsible for coordinating the states preparedness, response and recovery from natural disasters and acts of terrorism.

Cumberland Island was struck head-on by a major hurricane 117 years ago. The Category 3 storm pounded the Georgia coast with winds of 135 mph and massive waves, causing a 16-foot storm surge in Brunswick that left much of the city underwater.

After moving through the state and causing inland flooding across the Southeast, it’s estimated that hurricane killed 179 people.

That’s the last time Georgia was directly hit by a major hurricane with winds of at least 111 mph. In spite of our 100 miles of coastline, we’ve had a remarkable 117 years without a direct hit from the biggest storms. In more-recent history, it’s been a record-breaking nine years since a hurricane made landfall anywhere on the U.S. coast (Sandy was not categorized as a hurricane by the time it hit the Northeast in 2012).

We can hope our streak of good luck will continue, but hope is not a plan.

Because of its location, Georgia is at high risk from the dangerous effects of tropical storms, and it’s important not to get lulled into a false sense of security. The National Weather Service has called the threat of Georgia hurricanes a “sleeping giant,” and Rick Knabb, the director of the National Hurricane Center, named Savannah the fourth-most overdue city for a hurricane.

Hurricane Preparedness Week is May 24-30, and I am encouraging every resident, both along the coast and farther inland, to get prepared before the Atlantic hurricane season starts June 1.

Hurricanes are the most powerful storms in the world, and they can cause catastrophic damage even hundreds of miles inland. Straight-line winds can knock over buildings and take down power lines, but they can also spawn even more powerful tornadoes. Large waves and storm surge can produce devastating floods along the coast, but dangerous flooding also can occur inland because of heavy rainfall.

Tropical storms don’t have to directly hit an area or even be particularly strong to cause significant problems. While Hurricane Katrina didn’t directly “hit” Georgia, it did cause serious flooding across the western parts of the state and spawned 18 tornadoes in Georgia in one day.

To get prepared, there are three mains steps to take: be informed, make a plan and build a kit.

Being informed about the weather is crucial to staying safe. Luckily, there have never been more ways to stay weather-aware. Pay attention to the local news and download a weather app on your phone, such as the Ready Georgia app, which will alert you to severe weather in your area.

Making a plan with your family ensures everyone will know what to do in an emergency, whether it’s a hurricane or a tornado or flood produced by a hurricane. Your plan should make sure everyone knows where to shelter during a major storm, as well as how to get in touch with each other and where to meet if communications are down. You also should take into consideration the needs of any older family members or those with special needs, as well as your pets.

Building a kit with emergency supplies ensures you will have what you need to weather a storm or evacuate on short notice. Your kit should include at least a three-day supply of food and water, a first-aid kit, a flashlight with extra batteries, backup chargers for your mobile phones, paper maps of your area and a NOAA Weather Radio.

You also should know the terms used to describe severe weather. A tropical storm or hurricane “watch” means a storm with major sustained winds is possible within 48 hours, and you should be prepared to evacuate. A tropical storm or hurricane “warning” means a major storm is expected in the next 36 hours. If local authorities advise you to evacuate, leave immediately.

To make sure your home is prepared, cover up your windows with hurricane shutters or marine plywood, bring in or tie down all outdoor furniture and decorations, and keep your trees and shrubs pruned. Keep your gas tank at least half full to make sure you can evacuate quickly.

For more about information about Hurricane Preparedness Week and how to prepare, go to or download the Ready Georgia mobile app for your phone.

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