CHATHAM COUNTY, Ga (WSAV) – How to prepare for the next one, that’s what is on the minds of the Chatham Emergency Management officials.
They released their Hurricane Matthew report and laid out some major changes they want to see happen in case of another disaster.
“Sometimes you find out things after the fact that could have gone a little bit better,” says CEMA director Dennis Jones.
Chatham County’s first major storm event in nearly forty years was a learning experience for CEMA.
“During Matthew communication is one challenge that we had.”
In their aftermath report, director Jones and the agency laid out what went well and wrong during the storm. Early on one issue was informing the public, Tybee calling for a mandatory evacuation, but the county saying evacuation was voluntary.
“There are different things that people need to say, you can’t expect one person to be able to cover everything, but for the most part when it comes to the disaster response and the recovery effort I think it is realistic to believe that you can have a single voice on what the responsibilities are and what the priorities are,” says Jones.
In the future, the agency wants to focus on one voice for alerting the public about response and recovery. They are also looking at new zones of evacuation to help Chatham county neighbors understand what the order means to them.
According to Jones, CEMA would like to implement three evacuation zones that are easily identifiable for residents as well as for those people visiting the area. The intent is to break the county into three evacuation zones. 1) Truman east to coast. 2) Truman to I-95 and 3) I-95 west. That is the planning parameters. He adds that each storm is unique and that the areas may need to be adjusted based on the threat
Getting people out-of-town worked well in their opinion though. Having them come back was another story.
“The significant problem for us with reentry was how do we manage the number of people.”
The report requests from now on a policy group make that call, because many returned without knowing when they could see their actual home.
“In some cases we had to move them yet again so that was one of our biggest challenges during that initial recovery getting people back in and making sure they had somewhere they could stay.”
Moving forward CEMA plans to use their findings in the report to ask for multiple city and county sites be set aside as recovery or evacuation centers in case of the next storm. CEMA is looking at site plans to have an evacuation center of some kind capable in their new headquarters. The new CEMA center will be finalized by the end of the year with ground being broke around the first part of 2018 according to Jones.