Evacuating in a car culture

Dear EMA Director Wiggins:

Copies of this new official “Hurricane and Storm Surge Checklist” pamphlet were passed out at the January 9th “Town Hall” meeting on Saint Simons Island. Shortly after receiving a copy, I communicated directly with you and Glynn County Public Information Officer Matthew Kent about errors, omissions, and other problems I noticed. In the hope you will soon distribute a revised edition, let me offer a few comments, suggestions, and corrections:

1. The title, “Hurricane and Storm Surge Checklist” is both misleading and imprecise. This is not a checklist about hurricanes and storm surges. Instead, it is a checklist of things to take along if individuals or families decide to evacuate Glynn County as a hurricane approaches. Perhaps the title should be “A Checklist of Things to Do Before and When You Evacuate for a Hurricane or Storm Surge”.

2. Now let’s look at some of the verbiage inside this trifold pamphlet. Above what seems to be the “checklist” of things to include when “assembling an evacuation kit” there are several bits of questionable advice:

–“As we say at EMA: run from water and hide from wind.” My advice is to stop offering stupid advice. In any case, anyone “running” from Glynn County may “run” into flooding elsewhere. And what do you mean by “hiding” from wind?

–“Storm surge is a unique and dangerous problem to [sic] our county.” Not true. Storm surge is NOT unique to our county. It is a threat common to or in most coastal counties as well as some inland counties.

—“Have a destination in mind, and plan a safe, available route out of Glynn County.” This advice seems rather half-baked. For starters, how does the ordinary citizen know in advance which routes will be “safe” and “available”? Does “Have a destination in mind” mean don’t make up your mind about where you are headed until you find out the route you plan is both “safe” and “available”?

—“Communicate with your family on planning the evacuation and assembling an evacuation kit.” Which family are we taking about here? “Your” immediate family, if any, here in Glynn County or your extended family in other places?And what does “communicate” mean? Talk, text, call, email, etc.?

3. Moving on to “assembling an evacuation kit”:

–The list includes cash but offers no advice on estimating the total amount. And what denominations should one have? (Try to get change for a hundred dollar bill for a five dollar purchase during an emergency)?

—The list includes “Flashlight with extra batteres [sic]”. How about using spell-check and recommending more than one flashlight? Why not include battery-powered lamps, etc.?

—The list includes “Full tank of gas and extra gas can”. Does “extra gas can” imply there is another can, or do you mean “extra gas in an approved plastic container”? By the way, where should this container of extra gas be stored in the typical family SUV?

—The list includes a “Personal document lockbox” with all kinds of documents including “Birth certificates”. Why should evacuees travel with birth certificates? Or are you simply recommending that evacuees should keep all their important personal records and documents with them?

—The list includes “Physical Paper Maps”. Do you mean “current road maps for Georgia and abutting states” or simply “a current atlas of road maps”?

—The list includes “Activities to allieve boredom” including “cards and games” for adults, “Coloring books and puzzles for kids”. Please re-think that list, especially for the kids, some of whom may be teenagers. And why not include “books and magazines” and textbooks or homework assignments for the kids?

—The list includes lots of information about what to bring in a private vehicle. There is no advice for the folks who will have to share limited space with strangers in school buses or church buses, etc.

4. Not only is this “checklist” of things to include in “an evacuation kit” incomplete, but it does not include a checklist of things to do BEFORE leaving home, such as turning off electricity, gas, and water, and storing garbage cans and lawn furniture inside or moving extra vehicles to high ground.

5. The “checklist” is hard to read because of a pale color on a murky background.

6. The “advice” below the “checklist” is both trite and illogical: “Preparing for a disaster today is the most effective way to keep your loved ones safe tomorrow.” Preparing to load your loved ones and pets into a car along with cans of gasoline in order to join an evacuation convoy is NOT the most effective way to keep your loved ones safe.

7. Too much space is taken up on the front of the pamphlet with the photo of bored people sitting in the emergency operations center. And the smaller photo of flooding near the intersection of highway 17 and the Torras Causeway is marred by three distracting seals or logos.

8. And now, a few suggestions having nothing to do with the “Checklist” in question:

—How about recommending all Glynn County residents study the county’s storm surge maps so they understand just how vulnerable they are to storm surges and coastal flooding?

—How about a separate list of plans county residents should make in preparation for hurricanes and storm surges if they don’t plan to evacuate?

—How about a comprehensive survey to find out how many county residents did or did not evacuate for Hurricanes Matthew and Irma, why those who did not evacuate stayed behind, and how many do or do not plan to evacuate for the next storm?


Julian Smith