Midstate emergency planners urge preparation for tropical season

Midstate emergency planners urge preparation for tropical season

lfabian@macon.comJuly 10, 2013 

  • What’s in a name?

    Here are the names selected for the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season:
    Andrea: Tropical storm; maximum winds of 65 mph with landfall in Dixie County, Fla., June 6
    Barry: Tropical storm; maximum winds of 45 mph with landfall north of Veracruz, Mexico, June 20
    Chantal: Became tropical storm July 8
    Dorian
    Erin
    Fernand
    Gabrielle
    Humberto
    Ingrid
    Jerry
    Karen
    Lorenzo
    Melissa
    Nestor
    Olga
    Pablo
    Rebekah
    Sebastien
    Tanya
    Van
    Wendy

The third tropical storm of the Atlantic hurricane season fizzled Wednesday evening, but those charged with sheltering people out of harm’s way are no less vigilant.

“That’s why we are constantly preparing, because we don’t know when it will happen,” said Tracy Willis-Kite, executive director of the Central Georgia chapter of the American Red Cross.

The remnants of Tropical Storm Chantal could regenerate, and its heavy rains could still head for Middle Georgia, as a couple of the computer models have indicated.

Historically, stronger hurricanes form later into the season when disturbances develop off the coast of Africa and gather strength in warmer waters.

But as Macon learned from Tropical Storm Alberto in 1994, even a weak tropical system can produce disastrous rain.

The city’s all-time, 24-hour rainfall record of 10.25 inches happened July 5, 1994, with that storm, which later brought the Ocmulgee River to a record crest of 35.4 feet. (No one knows for sure because the depth gauge was swept away.)

Lessons learned in that storm and in other disasters, such as the Mother’s Day tornado of 2008, result in higher levels of preparedness.

In the underground bunker of the Macon-Bibb Emergency Management Agency, Director Don Druitt has spent months upgrading the Emergency Operations Center and bringing in the latest technology.

A video wall of monitors can keep officials up to date with forecast tracks, computerized maps of damage reports and satellite feeds from emergency preparedness colleagues across the nation.

“We’re more prepared today than we have been from 2008 and 1994,” Druitt said. “Every day gets better.”

Desks of computers with independent servers, Internet phones, a satellite hookup and generator will keep officials connected even if the rest of the city goes dark.

An organizational structure groups operations, logistics, planning and administration together in clusters.

Binders of contingency plans, lists of supplies and shelter locations will be the go-to guide should catastrophe strike.

“We have it down to a science right now,” Druitt said.

But it’s not just about Macon and Bibb County. If a major storm is headed toward coastal Georgia, 29,000 evacuees could be headed to Bibb County. The Macon Coliseum and Wilson Convention Center alone could be home to 4,000 people.

Trailers loaded with shelter supplies stand ready to roll to remote locations.

Accommodations for those with special needs, such as larger cots equipped for IV bags, would help handle any contingency.

The American Red Cross is also gearing up for activation in the event of a serious storm.

“We are simply trying to do an assessment of what volunteers we have available and make contact with our shelter operators,” said Donna Lee, the emergency services program manager.

Many people travel during the summer months, which can make planning a challenge.

“The time to prepare and start your response is to start early, ahead of the storm,” Lee said. “If there’s ever been that heart tug for you or your church or group to help, it’s better to be proactive than reactive.”

If you are interested in being a volunteer, contact the Central Georgia chapter of the American Red Cross at 743-8671.

Now is also the time for families to think about having emergency supplies, such as bottled water, flashlights and battery-powered radios.

“The key to tell everyone is to have an emergency preparedness plan,” Druitt said.

Because communications are often affected during major storms, families should have a notification chain in place so that out-of-town relatives can be informed without jamming limited phone lines, he said.

Log onto www.ready.gov for more information on being prepared.

To contact Liz Fabian, call

744-4303.

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