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Columbia County prepares for approach of hurricane Irma

Posted: September 13, 2017 - 1:47am
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Department representatives from all areas of county government in Grovetown and Columbia County attended a briefing at the Emergency Operations Center on Friday, as Hurricane Irma approached the Southeastern United States.
Department representatives from all areas of county government in Grovetown and Columbia County attended a briefing at the Emergency Operations Center on Friday, as Hurricane Irma approached the Southeastern United States.

Columbia County personnel and officials gathered for a hurricane preparation meeting last week before the approach of Hurricane Irma, and officials said they had full confidence that they were prepared for worst-case scenarios.

Grovetown and county personnel worked throughout the week to make preparations including strategic equipment placement and communications checks, as well as preparing to house an influx of people evacuating from surrounding states.

During a preparation meeting with county staff and other emergency personnel early Friday, Emergency Management Agency Director Andy Leanza shared details about the activation of the county's Emergency Operations Center, which went into effect Saturday at 7 a.m.

Fleet Services Manager Nick Hayes also updated the group on the department's diesel and gasoline reserves. Hayes explained that the area was seeing a problem with panic-buying and an influx of people into the area and not neccessarily a supply shortage.

County Administrator Scott Johnson, who thanked personnel in attendance and stressed the importance of keeping lines of communication open between departments, said the county's preparedness initiatives were "on the front side of several issues," and added that he had no doubts the county would be able to respond any disasters appropriately and would "do a fine job."

Leanza urged citizens residents to sign up for the Code Red countywide alert-messaging system that is available on the county's website.

"CodeRED is an emergency notification service by which public safety can notify residents and businesses by telephone or cellular phone about emergency situations," according to the county's website. "The system is capable of sending messages only to specific neighborhoods or the entire community."

The Code Red App is also available for smartphone users.

Leanza also encouraged citizens to utilize 311 for emergencies that are not life-threatening.

"In an active emergency, call 911. But if anybody has any kind of request for information or sees something going on that's not life-threatening, go ahead and call 311," Leanza said, adding that the Columbia County EMA Facebook page will be updated regularly.

Overall, Leanza lauded leadership and personnel for activating the county's Emergency Operations Center.

Grovetown

City administrator John Waller said the city began to prepare for the hurricane upon returning from the Labor Day holiday.

Waller said the week began with a collaborative meeting among city and department leaders addressing the functional areas.

"We talked about facilities, equipment, communications, command and control, personnel, medical, who are those folks that we know are on dialysis, transportation, and other," Waller said. "We started slicing and dicing who was in charge of what, making sure we had someone in charge of each of the functional areas."

Waller added that heavy equipment has been moved from low-lying areas and distributed in strategic areas throughout the city.

In addition, Waller said the biggest issue was the lack of a central communication system between public works and public safety.

"We don't have a common communications system, but if we put a half-dozen radios from public safety with public works and vice versa, we've got common communication," Waller said. "We've got a plan here to man the county EOC 24 hours, so we will have contact with the county for any resources we need above and beyond that we don't already have."

Waller said that the city will also set up its own operations center at Station One in Grovetown, which was established Monday. Waller also said employees were allowed to take city vehicles home, to respond more quickly if needed.

"Everybody is notified and who is doing what to whom," Waller said.

 

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