Routes and Responses: What Chatham County learned from Hurricane Matthew

CHATHAM COUNTY, Ga. (WSAV) – In the months since Hurricane Matthew, the thousands of evacuees and emergency service workers in Chatham County have been reviewing the response.

Hurricane Matthew left a lot of destruction in the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry, but from evacuations to routes, there’s been plenty of evaluation at Chatham County Emergency Agency [CEMA].

“Our evacuation clearance time is 36 hours, so even though we did experience challenges we still were able to get everybody out within that 36 hour time period,” says Dennis Jones, CEMA. “It verified that our evacuation clearance time is sound.”

However, Jones says CEMA has reviewed how the evacuation of specialty populations can improve.

“I think the biggest lesson learned is we can’t evacuate the specialty population simultaneously with the general population, we did that during Matthew and it presented several challenges for us,” says Jones.

Specialty populations include those in nursing homes and hospitals with possibly serious medical issues.

Jones stated, “There are some populations that are frail enough we don’t want them stuck on I-16 in a long evacuation period.”

The plan now would be to evacuate the specialty population a full 24 hours before the general population.

Evacuation routes have also been revamped for individuals leaving town on their own.

According to Jones, “Everything east of I-95 was one evacuation zone which was a majority of the county and then everything west of I-95 was the second evacuation zone.”

Since the hurricane, three zones have been created for Chatham County:

  • Zone A: East of the Truman Parkway to the Islands
  • Zone B: Truman to I-95
  • Zone C: Everything west of I-95

“I think in the future if we take a look at those three zones and be smart about zone management I think we can get better efficiency out of the zone evacuation process,” says Jones.

Emergency officials also say that in any disaster, preparedness begins with the individual.

CEMA advises individuals to review new evacuation zones, have a disaster kit ready, and be patient after the storm or hurricane is over.

Officials are also reviewing communications efforts before and after an event to ensure a safe return for evacuees.

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