2021 Hurricane Town Hall Recap 

By Lynn Lewis - lynnl@landings.org 
Communications Manager 

Approximately 200 residents turned out on June 16 for The Landings Association’s Annual Hurricane Town Hall Meeting in Palmetto Club’s ballroom. Presenting for Chatham Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) were Director Dennis Jones, Emergency Management Specialist in Community Outreach Chelsea Sawyer, and Volunteers in Service To America (VISTA) members Sakile Johnson and Jada Cossey. 

Jones opened the meeting by introducing his team and sharing some historical information regarding the hurricanes that have affected our area in the last few years. He reminded residents never to underestimate a storm and to leave immediately when an evacuation order is issued. 

“What Category Storm was Hurricane Matthew?” Jones asked the crowd. “It was classified as Category 1 on the edge of Tybee. However, in all other parts of our area, it was a tropical storm. Think about that. A tropical storm resulted in 1.6 million cubic feet of debris and $58 million of damage in unincorporated Chatham County.” 

Jones wrapped up his part of the presentation by reminding residents to respect the seriousness of severe weather and make a plan now. He then turned the presentation over to Johnson to discuss the potential of storm surge during a hurricane and how that would look for our area. 

Johnson shared that in a hurricane more victims die from water than wind. Because the Continental Shelf in Georgia extends about 120 miles and is very shallow, when a storm surge pushes in, there is nowhere for the water to go. She added that a hurricane’s category has very little bearing on storm surge, as each storm is unique, and sometimes weaker storms can produce more flooding than stronger ones. 

Sawyer picked up the discussion and reiterated to the crowd that Hurricane Season runs from June 1 to November 30, with peak season being September. She assured the group that CEMA makes a point to monitor every storm that has the potential to impact Chatham County and informs residents accordingly. She added that one thing CEMA noticed during Hurricanes Matthew and Irma is that some people worry needlessly over what is known as the Cone of Uncertainty of hurricanes. Although this cone contains the probable path of the storm center, it does not show the impact or size of the storm, which means hazardous conditions can occur outside of the cone. 

“Even if your area is not within this cone, I encourage you to ask yourself more clarifying questions, such as is storm surge a possibility, or could a tornado spawn from this hurricane. Whatever you do, don’t make your sole evacuation decision based on the fact you are not in the cone of uncertainty.” 

Sawyer encouraged the group to pay close attention to all CEMA-issued information during a potential hurricane or severe weather event. She reminded residents that Chatham County’s evacuation zones were updated a few years ago, and that The Landings falls within Zone A, which is the first group that will be evacuated. She explained that a general evacuation means that the decision to evacuate is left to the discretion of individuals (though strongly encouraged), whereas a mandatory evacuation means personal discretion is not an option. If an evacuation order is issued, Sawyer said she urges everyone in Chatham County to leave. She shared a story of a local couple who stayed behind during Hurricane Matthew because they were concerned about their material possessions and the possibility of looters. During the storm, a tree fell on the home and killed the husband while he was sleeping. 

“This is just one of many such stories,” she said. “Please remember, there is nothing in your home more valuable than your life. Additionally, as was explained earlier this evening, Chatham County has one of the greatest storm surge potentials on the East Coast. Knowing about this surge potential is a very good reason to be prepared and evacuate if an order is issued.” 

After sharing what to expect when an evacuation order is issued, Sawyer turned the meeting over to Cossey, who shared tips regarding hurricane preparedness. 

“Having a plan now will save time when seconds count,” she said. “Remember to take important documents such as bills, insurance policies, and ‘before’ photos of your home in case things don’t look the same when you return. Additionally, don’t forget to take cash. If the power is out, merchants may not be able to accept debit and credit cards for purchases.” 

Cossey said it is a safe bet is to plan to be away from home a minimum of three days. Pack food, medications, hygiene supplies, first aid supplies, and general supplies. 

“A good start is to get a five-gallon bucket and fill it with items that you like and will make you comfortable. Also, don’t forget to pack items for your pets, and please don’t leave them behind.” 

Cossey then shared the re-entry plan for Chatham County. As of June 1, 2018, Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) controls all re-entry passes for the State of Georgia. Passes are required for phases one through three of the five-phase re-entry plan. The following phases and their explanation are as follows: 

  • Phase 1: Render Safe Task Force - This includes teams who work to render the area safe for first responders to conduct life and safety operations during phase 2. This phase requires a re-entry permit. 
  • Phase 2: Life-Safety Workforce - This phase includes first responders and others who conduct life and safety operations. This phase requires a reentry permit. 
  • Phase 3: Essential Public and Private Sector Personnel - This phase includes individuals in the public and private sector who can restore essential operations, services, and commerce. This phase also requires a permit. 
  • Phase 4: Local residents, property owners, and business owners - In this phase, access may be restricted to specific areas, and a curfew may be in place. This phase requires a valid, state-issued identification and an address in the impacted area or valid state-issued photo identification with proof of residency. 
  • Phase 5: Open to the public with limited access - Local officials will have determined the County, or portions of the County, are relatively safe for entrance by the public. Restrictions and curfews may be used during this phase. 

Sawyer returned to the podium and  encouraged residents to visit CEMA’s website (www.chathamemergency.org) when preparing their hurricane plans. On the website, residents can sign up for CEMA alerts. CEMA now offers a “fast follow” text option. To register for text alerts, simply text CEMA to 77295. 

Don’t forget, The Landings Association offers emergency notifications exclusively for Landings Residents via our Swift911 system. You likely have heard by now that a company named Rave recently purchased SwiftReach, and the Swift911 platform is changing to Smart911. The company is transitioning clients in phases, starting with organizations like CEMA. At some point, TLA will be notified regarding switching over. However, we don’t know yet when that will be or what the changes will involve. At this juncture, there is no cause for end-users to do anything differently, and for now, TLA will continue sending emergency messages via Swift911. To sign up, visit www.landings.org/swift911. If you or someone you know is missing out on Landings Association messages and news, please email us (webmaster@landings.org) or visit our website (www.landings.org) and click Login. 

The complete PowerPoint presentation from the meeting can be viewed by clicking 2021 Hurricane Town Hall Presentation.

Following are some questions and answers from the 2021 Hurricane Town Hall Meeting.

Q. What has CEMA done to improve communications since Hurricane Matthew? 

A. CEMA has bolstered its communications team since Hurricane Matthew in 2016. There now is a team of 15-to-20 people focused exclusively on communicating with the public during major weather events. Additionally, CEMA now offers more ways to receive alerts, including the new “fast follow” option. 

Q. There was lots of flooding in The Landings during Hurricane Irma, even in places that never had flooded before. Has this been studied? 

A. Yes, we have done extensive evaluation of storm surge, and because Hurricane Irma hit just south of us, it produced a greater storm surge. It is important to bear in mind that the surge from Irma wasn’t the worst that could be, so it is important to evacuate when an order is issued. 

Q. How far should I go when an evacuation order is issued? 

A. Evacuation is personal, and there is no minimum recommended distance. The choice is up to the individual. Additionally, evacuation routes will be storm specific, so it is hard to say how far you should go or where you should go right now. CEMA closely follows the paths of all storms and will share this up-to-the-minute information with you as the weather event unfolds so you can be informed and make the best decision for you and your family. 

Q. Is there anywhere that provides provisions for the handicapped during a mandatory evacuation? 

A. Yes. There is a Special Needs Registry offered through Coastal Health District for those with functional, access, or medical needs. For more information, call 1-833-CHD-REGISTER. 

Q. When an evacuation is issued, do hotels have to accept pets? 

A. No. Many hotels will relax their pet policy during an evacuation, but they are not required to do so. 

Q. Is there somewhere I can find statistical information regarding hurricanes in this area from the last few years?

A. Yes. The National Hurricane Center offers this information on its website (www.aoml.noaa.gov/hurricane-research-division/).


This article was originally published by The Landings Association on their website.

Visit landings.org to read the original article.