GEMA plans to spread new sheltering plan statewide

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - The Emergency Management Association of Georgia is hosting their annual conference this week in Savannah.

Hundreds of first responders and local emergency management systems from across the state are learning more about upcoming changes in the statewide initiative for emergency response.

Emergency responders are always the first to head to help in times of disaster like Hurricane Harvey flooding Texas and Hurricane Irma sweeping through the Florida Keys. What happens when the help runs out, but disaster still strikes?

"We need to be able to prepare for our citizens regardless of what other agencies are capable of doing, so this allows us to open our own shelters," Chatham Emergency Management Strategist, Chelsea Sawyer, said.

Sawyer explained the new change in Chatham County's emergency plan for sheltering. It is a direct reflection of the lack of resources from the 2017 hurricane season. Most of the local public relies on non-profit aid, but sometimes there isn't enough help to go around.

"All disasters start and end at the local level, so those local emergency managers and local public health officials really have the eye on what's needed," Robby Westbrook, with the Emergency Management Association of Georgia, said.

Chatham Emergency Management Agency announced this shelter change plan at the hurricane conference on Tuesday. State leaders supported this change and said a new sheltering plan for the state needs to happen.

"I think the state and local levels need to have a flexibility and expertise in-house to sort of manage some of those shelters independent of the Red Cross so we've got more actual control over opening and closing of those shelters," GEMA Director Homer Bryson said.

CEMA plans to train county staff and CEMA workers to be able to act as shelter workers when disaster strikes.

"This is happening to jurisdictions all over the state," Westbrook said. "In some cases, some local E-M-A's have taken on the responsibility to be prepared in case these very good volunteer organizations are so overwhelmed that they can't provide all the services to everybody. To me, that's the sign of good emergency manager."

More Money for Local Agencies

GEMA Director Homer Bryson met with local agencies from all across the state at the Emergency Management Association of Georgia conference.
Bryson said in the meeting they went over recent legislation as well as take suggestions from the local agencies.

"I'm happy to announce this afternoon that we've looked internally and will be able to move more dollars into that program moving forward," Bryson said. "I think a lot of your counties are going to be excited about that. It will bring funding levels up for most of them from where it was last year."

Bryson said that money was allocated by FEMA and they've discovered what he called a new thought process which led to reconfiguring the budget.
This shouldn't just impact Chatham county, but instead, Effingham, Bryan, Liberty, and Bulloch could all see a little extra change in their pocket this year.

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