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Emergency Manager’s Tenure Marked by Michael, COVID

“Michael was a great challenge for our community that again showed the resilience of this community,” Cedric Scott said. “With hurricanes, you get notifications that let you know they are going to occur, which gives you time to prepare.”

A palm tree with its branches being blown sideways in strong winds.
(TNS) - When Cedric Scott made the move from Virginia to Albany in 2018, he had no idea that the rural southwest Georgia city would be the scene of multiple natural disasters and for a while the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scott, who became the city of Albany’s fire chief on June 20 of that year, assumes his second role as Dougherty County’s emergency management director in times of disaster.

That role includes recovering from prior events, and when he arrived the area was still dealing with the impact of devastating straight-line winds and a tornado, both of which occurred in January 2017. Tropical storm Irma hammered the area with wind and rain in September 2017, and less than four months after Scott’s arrival Hurricane Michael arrived as a Category 3 storm in October 2018.

The county has taken great strides in recovering from that series of disasters, but there are still signs of Michael’s destruction and some roofs still have tarp coverings.

“Michael was a great challenge for our community that again showed the resilience of this community,” he said. “With hurricanes, you get notifications that let you know they are going to occur, which gives you time to prepare.”

Homes and businesses were damaged by winds that felled trees and broke limbs, by falling debris and many were without electricity for days.

During this time, Scott said he saw great examples of the community pitching in, from cleaning up to delivering food to those who were in need.

“It was a community helping a community,” the fire chief said. “A lot of love was shown, a lot of compassion — the churches and religious groups came together.

“Those relationships with Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, our partners in law enforcement, the health department, we spent a lot of time talking about how we shelter, talking about baby formula, how we feed people. The day after Hurricane Michael, so many people were without power. All our partners throughout the community, it really represents a coordinated effort to prepare like we did during Michael.”

To get a perspective of the damage, the emergency director took to the air to assess the devastation from a bird’s eye view.

“I think when you get up in the air and survey the damage, you realize the widespread impact of Hurricane Michael, what it did on the ground,” he said. “It was challenging to see the damage, is the best way to describe it. Because you know so many people are going to be affected by what you see, people’s lives are going to be changed in a community that’s faced so much. This community has been through so much.”

The run of bad news didn’t end there, however. Less than 2 1/2 years later, Dougherty County for a time became one of the hardest-hit regions in the world when COVID-19 struck. Hospitals were filled, Phoebe opened a COVID intensive care unit at its Phoebe North facility. The deaths came so rapidly that the county had to request a mobile morgue to store the bodies.

Preparation is key for disaster response, but there really was no playbook for the massive blow dealt by the pandemic.

“We became aware of it (coronavirus) in March 2020,” Scott said. “It became very real for us because we were among the first to feel the effect of COVID-19, a lot of deaths, a lot of media attention paid to Albany.

“It is and has been the greatest devastation of lives that I have really been a part of. We’ve had things around the county with people being involved with loss of life and how to open an EOC (emergency operations center) and keep the people informed, working with our partners.

“We were about completely shut down at one time. COVID-19 was so scary at one time. You were scared you would get COVID-19 and pass away.”

Fortunately, for most disasters there is some warning and time to prepare the public and give alerts on how individuals can prepare. During his tenure, Scott said he has worked to improve the alert system.

The old system of giving various alerts for weather events has been replaced with one that alerts residents when residents are facing an imminent threat. And the county is in the process of installing a countywide siren system that will warn those in unincorporated areas of threats.

For his part, the fire chief/emergency director said he doesn’t take personal credit for work before, during and after an event.

“The first responders in our community, the firefighters, our emergency support staff, I am just in awe of the work they do,” he said. “I am so appreciative of all of them. They have worked and worked during this pandemic. They keep coming in day after day.

“I am so impressed with our 911 dispatchers, the men and women who make up this department. I have so much admiration and respect for what they do.”


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