Relationships Are Key to Emergency Management

Emergency managers in bordering states are making sure they’re well acquainted with their colleagues before hurricane season starts.

by Michael Hall, The Brunswick News / April 16, 2015

(TNS) — If a hurricane were to prompt an evacuation in Georgia, Florida or South Carolina, emergency management officials want to make sure they are well acquainted with their colleagues in bordering states prior to starting the process.

“We want to make sure we are not exchanging business cards in the middle of a disaster,” said Clint Perkins, State Operations Center director for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency. “We want to reach out across state lines.”

He invited more than 50 emergency management personnel, state police officers and department of transportation officials from Florida, Georgia and South Carolina to the Golden Isles Career Academy on Tuesday and Wednesday for a two-day meeting to discuss state-to-state mutual aid in the event of an evacuation. It was the first such meeting since 2006 and a meeting Perkins said should happen more often.

Although early tropical activity predictions from the Colorado State University Tropical Meteorology Project indicate it will be a quiet hurricane season this year, Glynn County Emergency Management Director Jay Wiggins always stresses the importance of being prepared. It is not a matter of if a hurricane will hit Georgia’s coast again. It is a matter of when, Wiggins said.

Hurricane season starts June 1 and ends Nov. 30.

Weather experts are predicting seven named storms. Three would be classified as hurricanes and one a major hurricane this summer and fall.

It has been 16 years since Glynn County was last evacuated for a storm. That was in 1999 when Hurricane Floyd triggered one of the largest evacuations in U.S. history, sending coastal residents away from their homes in five states.

Wiggins said everyone in attendance at the two-day meeting was well aware of the problems that evacuation presented and said being proactive about working together could prevent similar crisis situations in the future.

“We have come a long way,” Wiggins said.

A Floyd-type hurricane was used as a hypothetical scenario Tuesday to start a discussion about how each state can help each other and what an evacuation would mean for each.

Even a localized evacuation in a place like New Smyrna Beach, Fla., could have ramifications in places like St. Marys or Brunswick, Perkins said. Being aware of everything from where there is ongoing road construction to what the infrastructure is like in the towns around the evacuated area is crucial, he said.

Georgia Department of Transportation spokesperson Jill Nagel said discussing topics like that and what must be done to ensure roads and bridges are safe for re-entry after an evacuation was helpful.

“There was a lot of really good conversation,” Nagel said.

Then there are the hoops states must often jump through to get things done and work together. Dick Stokes, logistics coordinator for GEMA, told the group before closing the meeting Wednesday that the people in the room can ensure an evacuation runs smoothly.

“We’ve got to be prepared to cross state lines without too much red tape,” Stokes said. “There are no better people than you, the people in this room, to figure out how to make that work.”

©2015 The Brunswick News (Brunswick, Ga.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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