Navigating Disasters

  • Published
  • By Jonathan Bell
  • Robins Public Affairs

This year’s natural disasters have been brutal for many in the United States.

Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Texas, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico have all been directly affected by hurricanes in 2017.

And by the way, California was on fire.

A team from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and other disaster relief experts gathered to help the people of the Peach State navigate through their tough time.

Being in the southeastern U.S., many people in coastal Georgia are used to the effects of hurricane season. However, this year, Hurricane Irma tracked up the west coast of Florida and right into the heart of Georgia.

Because of the higher than normal amount of storms and various tracks across the map, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for all 159 counties in Georgia. Tom McCool, FEMA federal coordination officer, explained how exceptionally rare that is.

“In the last 11 months, the state of Georgia has received six presidential disaster declarations,” he said. “That’s almost unprecedented, and what is unprecedented is all 159 counties being declared under this presidential disaster.

“The cooperation with GEMA and the emergency management staffs at the county level has been second to none,” he added. “We could not have done our job without the support of the people on those staffs, my hat goes off to them.”

Being able to work together with the Department of Defense and GEMA was a key element to coordination for future planning on potential disasters that are yet to come.

“Being co-located on Robins Air Force Base with GEMA has been integral this hurricane season to FEMA’s response to Harvey, Irma, Maria and to Nate,” McCool said. “We couldn’t have done it without the support of the DOD.”

 In addition to about $20,000 a month in facilities fees that is being saved by basing operations on a military installation, Robins serves as the overall hub of operations for 350 FEMA staff spread throughout the state as they provide public assistance, individual assistance and mitigation.

Robins also offers a key logistical benefit to FEMA – its location.

“We reached out to all DOD installations in Georgia, and our ideal target was Robins because it is centrally located within the state,” said McCool.

FEMA’s primary purpose while in Georgia is to support Gov. Deal, the county commissioners, the mayors, the local governments and citizens of Georgia.

The FEMA staff currently has a timeline in place that will see them finishing up assistance operations in Georgia by late spring to early summer of 2018.