Some residents on St. Simons Island threw criticisms Peter Murphy’s way during his town hall meeting early this week to discuss Hurricane Irma response.
Criticisms included complaints about how long people had to remain evacuated and a lack of communication by county officials.
Since the storm, folks from all around the county, not only on St. Simons Island, have lodged similar complaints. None of them seem well founded given the massive scope of coordinating response to a storm.
The Golden Isles may not have experienced Irma’s full force, but the area suffered significant damage and extreme strain on infrastructure.
We know the evacuation was an inconvenience. It takes a lot of coordination for families to get their things in order to get out of town. It takes a lot of money to stay in hotels and buy food from restaurants.
Those inconveniences are just as prevalent for businesses that lose thousands of dollars in income from having to close or choose to pay employees who leave.
Consider those inconveniences and multiply them by 100 and you might begin to get a picture of just how big the job of emergency management officials is and how difficult the decisions they have to make truly are. They must consider the safety of the entire community, the strain on infrastructure and what the state of that infrastructure might be after the storm. They must think about the impacts of the storm on everyone and everything — rich people, poor people, hospitals, FLETC, water and sewer systems, power systems and much, much more.
What’s more, they are dealing with a constantly evolving storm and information that changes by the minute. Officials have to coordinate with hundreds of people, all with different interests and concerns, and must attempt to keep up with how bad the storm is, where it is and where it might go. They must pull all of that together and make informed decisions that protect lives and property.
In the aftermath of the storm, there were few traffic lights still hanging. Most that were hanging were not functioning. Sewer lift stations were out of order and essentially turning into giant septic tanks. Power poles were down and electricity was out throughout a majority of the county. Had everyone been allowed back into the county under those conditions, it would have overloaded law enforcement’s ability to direct traffic and keep things safe. If the entire populace had been using toilets in the two days after the storm, the sewage problems would have been much worse. With debris scattered everywhere and a regular day’s traffic on the roads, crews whose job it is to put things back to normal would have been greatly hindered.
We understand the inconvenience of evacuation is frustrating and expensive, but as we have said in this space a couple of times during the last month, EMA officials made the right calls and handled the cleanup and response well.
As one letter-writer put it to The News this week while defending the response: “Many thanks to our emergency management team and our first responders for a job well done. Overall, your performance was splendid.”