CEMA updates plans for 2012 hurricane season
By Kelly Harley CEMA Emergency Management Specialist, Savannah, Ga.
The 2012 Hurricane Season is upon us and despite the forecast of a near normal season, the reality is that it takes only one catastrophic storm to wreak havoc on Chatham County. This past year, the Chatham Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) has gone to great lengths to improve our hurricane plans. In May, CEMA and numerous county agencies participated in a statewide Hurricane Exercise (HURREX), conducted in partnership with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA). GEMA requires counties to conduct full-scale exercises every two years. This year, the county’s Functional and Special Medical Needs Evacuation, General Public Evacuation, Joint Information Center, Aviation Support and Control, and the Planning Section of the Emergency Operations Center were exercised. The full-scale exercises allow us to take our plans off the shelves and evaluate their effectiveness before a storm hits.
CEMA continues to update the county’s emergency operations plans and each Emergency Support Function (ESF) is being evaluated for strengths and weaknesses and what improvements can be made. Updates are currently in the works and by summer, the goal is to have each ESF complete. You can find the current plans on CEMA’s website, www.chathamemergency.org, under the “About” section.
In July, CEMA will once again take part in the annual Home Depot Hurricane Expo sponsored by Home Depot and WTOC. The event will be held July 21 at the Home Depot on Abercorn Street from 9am to 12pm. CEMA will provide information regarding storm surge, hurricane preparedness, and other natural disasters. Literature in Spanish will be available.
This year CEMA has made a change to evacuation terminology. Before we used the terms “Voluntary” and “Mandatory” evacuations and we felt the word “Voluntary” implies there is a choice; however, if a major storm threatens Chatham County residents must evacuate. Our agency has changed the term “Voluntary” to “Early/Recommended” in hopes the change will help people make the smart decision to leave the county if they are advised to do so. The best bet to avoid a traffic jam is to leave when an “Early/Recommended” evacuation is issued instead of waiting for the “Mandatory” to be announced.
Chatham County clearance times will also change in the near future. Clearance times are how long it takes counties to evacuate the entire population. With population growth along the coast, the amount of time to get everyone out safely before the arrival of tropical storm force winds will obviously be longer. The Army Corps of Engineers is the agency conducting the new Hurricane Evacuation Study and we should see the results soon.
Again, we hope that you are prepared for this hurricane season and just because we may not see a lot of tropical action, don’t let your guard down. Continue to prepare as you normally do, take a close look at your plans, and make sure you are ready.