Macon Ready: Macon-Bibb takes disaster preparedness to the next level

Emmitsburg, Md. -- When community representatives arrive at FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute, senior training specialist Ray Chevalier can usually size them up on the first day.

He observed something right away with the Macon-Bibb County team selected from dozens of communities from across the country for specialized training at the National Emergency Training Center.

“I think there’s a camaraderie,” Chevalier said.

The group of about 60 people worked to forge even better relationships and disaster preparedness among emergency managers, county department heads, volunteers and representatives of utilities, education health care and other agencies critical to response.

“Working together, seeing each other in the training environment makes everyone more effective when disaster strikes,” said Macon-Bibb EMA Director Don Druitt, whose pending retirement was announced Friday.

Druitt has spend the past five years upgrading the Emergency Operations Center technically and by following federal disaster protocol.

He praised his predecessors, the late Civil Defense Director Wink Dubose and Johnny Wingers, for developing a highly dedicated corps of volunteers.

Bob Currey, who has been volunteering since 1970, attended the training.

“It helped us get the basics of what we would really need in actuality,” Currey said. “Volunteers are the most expensive part of emergency management because you can’t afford to pay us and you can not afford to do without us.”

Georgia Power liaison to EMA, Denise Martin, also is no stranger to emergency operations.

“I think it was worth the trip to me to understand the process in the county, and how we can fit in,” Martin said.

Chevalier closed out the course by asking, “Why are we here? Two words, lives and property.”

When evaluating Macon-Bibb’s performance in the disaster drills, he said, “This was impressive. Great job. You ought to be proud.”

Chevalier, who is retiring after working 32 years with FEMA, noted the presence of Mayor Reichert, Commissioner Al Tillman and Clerk of the Court Erica Woodford in his final on-site course.

“This week is a highlight for me to see as many elected officials in class,” he said.

Ray Shell of the Macon Water Authority said the exercise helped him network with other leaders who would be key in a disaster.

“I met a lot of people in the county that I didn’t know,” Shell said.

The Hurricane Katrina disaster prodded Macon Transit Authority Director Rick Jones to come to training.

Jones was in New Orleans in the late 80s when a comprehensive evacuation plan was developed for the transit system.

The world watched as the buses were flooded and people remained stranded.

He wanted to make sure Macon-Bibb was ready.

“Know the plan, update the plan. Hold people accountable to not make the same mistake twice,” said William Vola, a FEMA instructor from Baytown Texas. “If your plan is a document that sits on the shelf, you’re going to get out of it what you put in it.”

Macon-Bibb EMA already plans follow-up training sessions to increase participants’ proficiency in the software program that is being used to coordinate disaster response.

Instructor David Popoff encouraged everyone to remember disasters are “open book” because the plans are already in place and just need to be followed.

“We shouldn’t have a situation where somebody asks, “What should we do,” because somebody’s already done it,” he said.

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303 and@liz_lines on Twitter.