Potentially ‘without power for days and days’
Although there is a chance Hurricane Irma may be downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it arrives in the north Georgia mountains Monday and Tuesday, local authorities are still concerned and are preparing for flooding, downed trees and the potential loss of electrical power.
Tony Pritchett, director of Gilmer County Public Safety, said his department is having briefings with the National Weather Service every day as Irma approaches.
“We had a command staff meeting yesterday with all our personnel and the folks who are responsible for certain divisions of the department, and we’re making preparations to have our teams ready and outfitted for whatever the storm may bring,” he said Friday morning. “We’re making sure that our swiftwater rescue and our equipment to take care of flooding is in order and ready to go. We’re making sure our chainsaws and loose equipment is ready to go and in place throughout the county, and that our staffing is going to be as adequate as it possibly can be to position folks throughout the county.
“We’re going to be as ready as we can be when this things hit.”
The path of Irma
Pritchett said the “biggest thing to keep in mind” is how the path of the storm could affect the county.
“The more east we are of the eye of the storm, if it comes this far up, brings more risk of heavier rain and more wind potential,” he said. “The two things we worry about is flash flooding and mass trees down throughout the county. As far as the public is concerned, we need to make sure everyone is aware they need to go ahead and have their supplies ready — food, water and batteries.
“Individuals need to be ready for 48 to 72 hours to be wherever they’re at. If the storm comes in at a magnitude it potentially could, it could take us an extended period of time to clear the roadway to get to them, or to clear the roadway where they can travel.”
Pritchett said the “one thing that I can say more than anything is please be aware of whatever bulletins or whatever are put out by the National Weather Service, and by us here locally.”
‘Do not wait till last minute’
“Mainly, if we say there is a flood warning, if you are near a waterway that traditionally floods, do not wait till the last minute to get out — get out,” he advised. “The warning will only go out if it’s an imminent thing, and once the flood has already occurred at that property or that house, many times it’s almost too late for us to get there.
“So don’t wait for it to get in a bad situation before you try to go somewhere else. We may have to cut trees out of the road to get there, and once we get there if we can get there, the water rescue can be very difficult if the flood is severe enough. We just really want to mitigate life-safety issues before they come about.”
Pritchett said homeowners should check around their homes for any items that may be affected by winds, which could include gusts.
“With things being the way they are here with the types of trees we have, the type of wind we’re looking at will definitely results in trees down and power outages throughout all of Gilmer County,” he continued. “That means (residents) could be without power for days and days. If it’s severe enough, it could be a week or more.
“So having candles and flashlights and batteries and those type of things is crucial, because if you don’t have some type of backup power, you’re probably not going to go anywhere to get it after the event has happened.”
Hurricane Irma preparedness tips
From Georgia Emergency Management Agency
﹣ Make a communications plan
If your family isn’t together when a disaster strikes you should know how to reach each other and where to meet up in an emergency. The Ready Georgia app also has an “I AM SAFE” text message tool that allows you to send a text message to emergency contacts in your disaster plan.
﹣ Build a ‘Ready Kit’
Put together a Ready Kit that includes the supplies you and your family would need for three days. Some items to include are sufficient water, nonperishable food, medications, important documents and any other essential items. Once you’ve gathered all the basic items, consider what unique needs your family might have, such as supplies for pets, seniors or family members with special needs. Add those items to your kit and start packing it today.
﹣ Know the location of your local shelter
In the event of an evacuation, have a plan for where you and your family are going. If you plan to go to a local shelter have the address and directions printed out and in your Ready Kit. If you have a pet, check in advance to see if the shelter or hotel you plan to use is pet friendly. Most public shelters can’t accept pets due to health regulations, so plan accordingly.
﹣ Stay informed
Advance warning is the most powerful preparedness tool for severe weather. Every family should have multiple methods for receiving severe weather alerts, including at least one with an audible alert to wake you in the middle of the night if necessary.
There are many options for staying in touch with changing weather conditions:
﹣ NOAA Weather Radio: Watches and Warnings issued by National Weather Service (NWS) air on these radios.
﹣ Television stations: Local or national news stations monitor and broadcast weather alerts.
﹣ AM/FM radio: Radio stations are required to air Emergency Alert System messages.
﹣ Smartphone applications: Numerous free and paid smartphone applications have been created to notify the public of severe weather. Some of these applications use GPS tracking on your phone and will notify you of severe weather warnings based upon your location. Ready Georgia’s free app provides severe weather alerts and also gives you mobile access to your emergency plan and other preparedness resources.
﹣ Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA): WEA are emergency messages sent by authorized government alerting authorities through your mobile carrier. The alert system doesn’t require you to download an app or subscribe to a service. The WEA message will usually provide the category and time, the agency issuing the alert and what action you should take.