CEMA implements new hurricane shelter plan

CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) - Chatham County Emergency Management is making a big chance to its emergency plan. Starting this year, if the need presents itself, the county has allowed themselves to open their own shelters as plan B and not relying on the American Red Cross.

Emergency responders heading to help as Harvey flooded Texas and Irma swept through Florida. 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," said Chelsea Sawyer, Chatham Emergency Management, Strategist.

A new change in Chatham County's emergency plan is a direct reflection of the lack of resources with both Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Irma. Most of the local public relies on nonprofit aid, but sometimes there isn't enough help to go around. Chatham County Management Agency says they now have a backup plan.

"Our plan A is to rely on the Red Cross is they either can't do it or they aren't capable of doing it, then we have a plan B," said Dennis Jones, Chatham Emergency Management, Director.

They are reiterating this new sheltering plan is only if the Red Cross is not. CEMA has locked down 17 locations to be potential sites for shelters in the wake of a disaster.

"We've got 10 sites with the school board and at least seven sites with the municipalities around the community that we can utilize as emergency sheltering if we had to implement plan B."

State leaders are supporting this local change and pushing it statewide.

"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," said Homer Bryson, Georgia Emergency Management Agency, Director.

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," said Robby Westbrook, Emergency Management Association of Georgia.

CEMA plans to train county and CEMA staff to act as shelters workers. Right now, they say they have resources to shelter up to 200 people.

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