Chatham County’s hurricane evacuation plans change in pandemic

BySean Evans|July 20, 2020 at 3:53 PM EDT - Updated July 20 at 5:02 PM

CHATHAM COUNTY, Ga. (WTOC) - Because of COVID-19, hurricane evacuations, should they happen, will look much different this year.

Leaders with Chatham Emergency Management Agency are already working on detailed plans to make sure people can evacuate safely, and not contract or spread coronavirus while doing so.

If ordered, a hurricane evacuation would look a lot different this year than any other Chatham County has experienced before, starting with the transportation from around the County to the Savannah Civic Center evacuation staging area.

“We’re trying to pre-identify locations that they can start with and make their way around the county so that we don’t have thousands of people showing up to the Civic Center at once,” said Chelsea Sawyer with CEMA.

Once at the Civic Center, intake and loading up on buses to head out of town will also look different.

“There are going to be markings on the ground to try to keep people six feet apart.”

In addition to physical distancing, masks will be required. For those who don’t have masks, one will be provided.

Frequently touched surfaces will also be sanitized every hour. Sawyer says CEMA is also anticipating more evacuees this year, roughly more than a thousand people, and explained why.

“Just assuming that people could’ve lost their job, could be in a financial hardship. So we’re trying to include that in our estimations.”

“As a whole, we’ve added an additional four hours to any decision making point that we have. So where as originally it might have been 36 hours we would make a call, we’re upping that to 40 hours to give our decision makers plenty of time to pull those triggers and make sure they’re ready to go.”

As for the exact number of buses needed to evacuate Chatham County’s residents, that number and the number of shelters in inland counties is still being worked out.

Photo: WTOC

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