By Meredith Ley
At the Chatham Emergency Management Agency (CEMA), we promote general preparedness year-round, but Hurricane Safety Preparedness Week (May 24-30) is an ideal opportunity to encourage our residents to review their family contacts and develop a hurricane plan. As a coastal community, we are extremely vulnerable to all of the dangers associated with hurricanes. Even a small hurricane could cause major flooding and damage to our county. For example, storm surge from a Category 3 hurricane has the potential to cover about 75 percent of our county, while a Category 5 storm can cover upwards of 95 percent.
As CEMA’s public information officer, it is my job to make sure every Chatham County resident has information about potential risks associated with disasters and the necessary tools to make informed decisions for their families.
The easiest way to prepare for any disaster is to build an emergency Ready kit or “Go Bucket.” Ready kits are totally customizable and can be very inexpensive to make. In addition to this checklist, I also urge residents to pack additional medication, food and water based on their individual needs. A well-built kit should have at least one gallon of water per day per person and constructed so you can make it on your own for at least three days.
Just like we need emergency supplies, pets also need a Ready kit that includes food, water, familiar items and more. Please don’t take them for granted during an evacuation, as you will not be allowed to re-enter the county to retrieve your furry friends if you leave them behind. Always keep in mind, if it’s not safe for you to stay, it’s not safe for your pet. They will likely not survive on their own if abandoned.
Evacuations are another critical aspect I’d like to address during Hurricane Preparedness Week. Too often residents come to me and say, “I tried to leave during Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and it took me 12 hours to get to Atlanta and nothing even happened! I won’t be leaving next time!” Obviously, I don’t like to hear that kind of feedback, and I always express the importance of following evacuation orders every time they are issued.
However, I understand the frustration that many people experienced in 1999. Like most residents, emergency officials also learned a lot from the Hurricane Floyd experience. For example, CEMA has worked with the Georgia Department of Transportation and Georgia State Patrol to make sure contra-flow activities are initiated well in advance of a threatening storm, dramatically reducing the likelihood of traffic jams along evacuation routes. Of course, the public will have a role to play in that as well. That’s why we urge all residents to get to their designated evacuation location in a timely manner, which means leaving well in advance of, or immediately after an evacuation order is issued.
Of course, evacuating quickly means that you need to have a destination already in mind. Hurricane Safety Preparedness Week is the perfect opportunity to identify where you will go and who you will call once it’s time to evacuate. If you have family nearby, chances are you will be more comfortable with them rather than staying in a shelter.
Finally, I encourage everyone to download a mobile app to make emergency preparation even easier. GEMA/Homeland Security’s Ready Georgia campaign and the Chatham County EMA offer free mobile apps that allow residents to make disaster plans for their families, check Ready supplies and more. When severe weather is in the forecast, both apps deliver alerts so that you can stay weather aware. The free apps are available for both iPhone and Android devices. To download the Ready Georgia mobile app, visit www.ready.ga.gov/mobileapp. To download the Chatham County app, visit the App Store and search for “ChathamEMA.”
Meredith Ley is a public information officer at the Chatham County EMA.