Local government officials left the county’s Emergency Operations Center with a fairly consistent opinion: That it performed a crucial role before, during and after Hurricane Dorian skimmed the Golden Isles.
Headed up by the Glynn County Emergency Management Agency, the EOC serves as a central location for government agencies with a presence in Glynn County to coordination their effort to respond to disasters during states of emergency.
“It was a constant (flow of) receiving information, digesting information and tweaking the plan,” said Glynn County Commission Chairman Mike Browning. “If we had a damaged community, I’m convinced we could have gotten it up and running as quick as anyone.”
Matthew Coleman, external affairs director for Georgia Power, said the level of communication afforded by the EOC can help speed up response to service outages.
“For instance, if Georgia Power needs traffic control in an area, or if first responders or (county public works) needs assistance, plans get coordinated through the EOC,” Coleman said.
Georgia Power; the county, city of Brunswick and Jekyll Island Authority; the Brunswick-Glynn County Joint Water and Sewer Commission; Glynn County Schools; the Georgia Department of Transportation; College of Coastal Georgia; the county police and fire departments and the sheriff’s office; among several other agencies sent representatives to organize a quick and speedy response to the storm.
“By the time we got to the EOC, everyone was in lock-step,” Browning said. “Everyone knew how they meshed with everyone else ... The people that have to get your community up and running, they’re in the same place at the same time working on the same thing.”
It was through the EOC that Gov. Brian Kemp delivered a public address about the then-impending hurricane and the state insurance commissioner made contact with local government representatives, Browning said. The Georgia National Guard also went through the EOC when making its disaster response plans.
“With all the coordination with the local agencies and departments and going up the chain with the federal and local government, I was very surprised how responsive everyone was,” Browning said.
Regular weather briefings and quick access to personnel from other government agencies made a big difference, said JWSC Interim Executive Director Andrew Burroughs.
“I thought it was a tremendous success from that regard,” Burroughs said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt in my mind they could have (helped us with recovery efforts). Everyone was engaged and understanding everyone’s position and aware of what we had to deal with.”
JIA Executive Director Jones Hooks said the EOC handled the gathering and dissemination of factual information “professionally and efficiently,” and noted the benefits of being able to communicate quickly with other government agencies.
“The coordination between departments and agencies facilitated by the EOC is tremendous,” Hooks said. “Having the county commission chairman constantly present is also significant for making decisions efficiently. Sustaining this level of cooperation after storms will be critical to future recovery efforts. The emergency operations preparedness plan addresses rapid recovery, but also long-term community recovery and mitigation activities. If the damage had been more severe, those functions would become critically important.”
It wasn’t a spontaneous thing. Glynn County Emergency Management Agency personnel arrange regular exercises to encourage cohesion.
“This is technically our fourth event activating the full EOC. We had Matthew and Irma, and then we had ice-storm Grayson, and then we had this event this past week,” said county EMA specialist Alec Eaton. “... Planning these throughout the years makes this a lot easier, and we can fall right into our responsibilities, our roles, and we all know who’s going to be there and what their roles are.”
Brunswick Mayor Cornell Harvey could not be reached for comment Friday but addressed personnel in the EOC on Thursday.
“We have learned some lessons. Every time we go through this, there are some lessons learned,” said Harvey on Thursday morning. “One of the things I think is very prevalent is cooperation — cooperation between the city and county, the water and sewer, Jekyll Island Authority. But you guys do it all the time, we’re taking lessons from you.”
“Seeing the camaraderie that happens when our community is under these impacts, the way they come together, that’s huge,” Eaton said.
In the next week or so the EMA will hold a debriefing on the whole event and look for ways to improve, but Eaton said he already sees things he’d like to work on.
In future emergencies, Eaton said the EMA wants to give county residents more opportunities to see what’s going on behind the scenes.
Additionally, Eaton said the EMA is looking for public input on the county’s handling of the situation.
“You never know where you’re going to get your best idea from,” Eaton said. “It could be someone living in one of the neighborhoods who has an idea of how to do something differently, and if it’s something we can apply we will.”
Comments can be sent to email@example.com. The EMA will also monitor social media for criticism, he said.
The News reached out to EOC representatives of the Georgia Department of Transportation, but they did not return requests for comment.