THE 2019 hurricane season has already begun, and it’ll be in full swing by September. Are you ready?
Chatham Emergency Management Agency wants to help you feel confident and prepared as we brace for whatever storms may come our way. This Saturday, join them at Savannah High for the Citizen Hurricane Academy.
The workshop schedule is designed to allow participants to move around and take in the information they need most.
Chelsea Sawyer, Emergency Management Coordinator in Community Outreach, says the event first started around 12 years ago.
“We had a great success with it, but it kind of fell off the radar,” she says. “People weren’t really paying attention to hurricanes, and I think that’s why [Hurricane] Matthew came as a shock to a lot of people.”
This year, CEMA partnered with Memorial Health to expand their offerings of workshops. Topics range from financial preparation to flood zones, and Sawyer says there will be some star guests in attendance.
“We partnered with two meteorologists,” says Sawyer. “One is a TV meteorologist who they see all the time, so Dave Turley from WTOC will teach what you need to know about hurricanes and, I hope, harp on storm surge. Then, we’re bringing in the National Weather Service. People want to hear from the experts. They want to hear who we hear our information from. We’re bringing in Bob Bright—when we’re making evacuation decisions, we’re talking to that person.”
In hurricanes past, CEMA’s credibility was called into question after confusion surrounding evac orders, but the agency is, and has been, committed to keeping the community safe.
“I think it will start to debunk some of the rumors people hear, like, ‘Well, it’s emergency management, CEMA’s just trying to tell us to leave,’” explains Sawyer. “Or, ‘CEMA thinks they’re meteorologists.’ We never claimed to be meteorologists. We’re just sharing the information. There’s a lot of misinformation about us.”
One bit of misinformation Sawyer would love to see cleared up is the danger of storm surge.
“Storm surge is Chatham County’s largest threat,” she says. “If we have a direct hit Category 3 hurricane, most of Chatham County is underwater in some capacity. Even into Pooler, Port Wentworth, areas you wouldn’t think would be flooded by water coming in from the ocean—they’re going to be covered too. And there’s a difference between surge and flooding. Flooding is water that comes down from the sky. Storm surge is water that naturally rises. So, yeah, if you have water that naturally rises as well as water that comes from the sky, it’s a lot.”
For this event, CEMA expanded the target age range to include younger participants, too.
“We targeted a lot older of a population during the last event, and my goal [this time] was to target a younger population, which is why we’re incorporating the children’s workshop,” says Sawyer. “When you’re dealing with preparedness, how do you engage children in a way that doesn’t scare them, but that gets them to focus on one thing rather than just trying to run around everywhere?”
At the children’s session, the kids will take home a bag that they can turn into their own hurricane preparedness kit.
“It’s got images all over it of teddy bears, radios, batteries, flashlights—things they can tangibly get and put in a kit,” says Sawyer. “It keeps them occupied, it keeps them excited about emergency preparedness, and they have something they can take with them during a disaster.”
Another exciting component is the resource area.
“There are two organizations coming that are still providing financial disaster assistance for those affected by Hurricane Irma,” says Sawyer. “One is for people just in the city of Savannah, and one is for anybody in Chatham County or surrounding counties that need financial assistance. They still have dollars available, so they’ll be there accepting clients and trying to help people the best way they can.”
Sawyer and CEMA hope the Citizen Hurricane Academy comes at the right time to keep people interested in and focused on preparedness.
“The market is so saturated the first week of June,” she says. “People are like, ‘Hurricane season!’ And I think by July or August, people aren’t paying attention anymore. So that’s why we’re trying to add pieces. We’ve got this, and we’ve got other events coming up in September—just trying to keep people on top of hurricane preparedness.”