CEMA & GOVERNMENT RESPONSE: A
It’s been less than a year since Hurricane Matthew, but the Chatham Emergency Management Agency-led response during Hurricane Irma was orders of magnitude more competent and reassuring than it was for the previous storm.
Every aspect of local government response was significantly improved, from the professionalism and frequency of press briefings to the more practical, savvy use of social media.
Having a single designated spokesman, CEMA Director Dennis Jones, was worlds better than the talk-show format used last year, in which each politician would take turns going to the mic to give shout-outs to their besties while the public remained confused and concerned.
Many people this year second-guessed the decision to evacuate Savannah, given the storm’s eventual path. (These were often the same people who criticized CEMA for moving too slowly last year.)
But given the massive flooding on Tybee and other island areas, it turns out that CEMA’s decision to continue with the Zone A mandatory evacuation was exactly the correct and responsible call.
Let’s remember that City Manager Rob Hernandez was literally in his first week on the job when Matthew hit last year. Irma was the first hurricane where Hernandez was able to put his own stamp on crisis management here.
And wow, did it ever pay off for Savannah to have a City Manager with previous experience in South Florida.
It’s funny how these things work. The hiring of Hernandez was a direct result of Mayor Eddie DeLoach and several new Council members winning office in 2015, based on an implicit campaign promise to change City Managers.
The 2019 City elections are still a ways away, but the decision to hire Hernandez looks more and more like the best reelection insurance policy you could have.
FAKE NEWS ON SOCIAL MEDIA: F
Jim Cantore was on Tybee Island.
Hotels are required by law to take in all your dogs and cats and snakes and ferrets during an evacuation.
All electricity and water will be cut off the day before the storm hits.
Zello doesn’t need any internet or cell service to work, it’s like magic.
No, no, no, and no!
But that didn’t stop these and other irresponsible rumors from spreading like viral wildfire on Facebook, often crowding out those of us in the business of disseminating actual, true, useful information.
CEMA was forced to spend a lot of time and energy correcting fake news, distracting from their main mission.
It’s funny — until someone gets hurt.
TYBEE MAYOR JASON BUELTERMAN: A+
As chief executive of the area in Chatham County hardest hit by Irma, Mayor Jason Buelterman displayed unflappable calm professionalism and great empathy in the face of heavy odds.
His call for a mandatory evacuation on Friday, a full day before the evacuation of the rest of Chatham County, was criticized by some for being “premature.”
But the call was exactly right, and I shudder to think what might have happened had Buelterman chosen to adopt the cavalier attitude about hurricane evacuation on display in some other circles.
In the aftermath, as dozens of families were flooded out of homes in the Lewis Ave. area, Buelterman was seen walking the neighborhood calming residents and giving them useful information on how to recover and get aid. That’s leadership.
GEORGIA POWER: B
Last year after Matthew, I wrote that all the bumbling by CEMA and local officials would soon be forgotten because people were so happy their power came back on so quickly, thanks to the diligence of Georgia Power utility crews and linemen.
This year, the roles were turned around slightly, as Georgia Power workers were clearly overburdened by the fact that almost the entire state of Georgia experienced serious outages as a result of Irma.
Some neighborhoods seemed to get power long after others. It caused grumbling — but whether that grumbling was justified is largely up to interpretation.
CONTRARIANS AND MALCONTENTS: D
Hey, I’ve fit that description to a T many times myself, so I can relate. But this time, the Grumpy Pundit brigade was left running on fumes.
You can only complain about government overreach so much when literally every “spaghetti model” shows the most powerful Atlantic storm ever recorded headed directly for Savannah.
You can only complain about media sensationalism so much when you see entire island nations literally wiped off the map due to a Category 5 storm forecast to come your way in a few days.
You can only complain so much about the civil rights violations of a temporary curfew when the result was a 70 percent reduction in crime during the curfew period over last year’s hurricane.
You lost this one, Crusty Complainers. Just take the L and move on.
FLORIDA DRIVERS: F
The phenomenon of pokey Florida evacuees has been remarked on by many who shared the road with them — or more accurately, who were stacked up behind them.
Hey, I get it. You’re scared, you’re fatigued, the kids in the back are hungry and tired and complaining, you don’t know if you’ll even have a home to come back to.
But Florida drivers, please get out of the passing lane if you’re going to dawdle along way below the speed limit! It’s the law here.
THE BLUE DODGE CHALLENGER: A++ WITH EXTRA CREDIT
What more perfect symbol of Savannah’s quirky persona and stubborn resilience than the image of the abandoned, flooded-out cobalt blue Dodge Challenger triumphantly emerging from the storm surge that inundated River Street.
It’s too bad City Council has already decided on a new Savannah logo, because the Blue Challenger would be hilariously perfect in every way.