Hurricane Irma made a mess. The storm tore apart Glynn County homes, pulled down trees, scattered pounds of marsh wrack and flooded streets and buildings. Then Irma moved on, and local officials were left with the clean up.
That work wasn’t cheap. Law enforcement officers, public works employees, emergency management officials and many others put in many hours of overtime, trying to get the county back in order as quickly as possible.
The work continues even today, nearly two years after Irma came through the Golden Isles on Sept. 11, 2017. But county officials had reason to celebrate Thursday, when reimbursements totaling more than $6 million were delivered by a representative from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, or GEMA.
“Response to a hurricane, response to any disaster, is monumental,” said Charlie Dawson, deputy director for disaster recovery with GEMA, after a check presentation Thursday. “The hardest part, though, is the recovery.”
Dawson brought two big checks along. The first one, which was for about $1.2 million, reimbursed the county for the costs of emergency protective measures, overtime pay for law enforcement officers and public works employees, emergency center operation costs and more.
The second check, which was for about $5,251,000, reimbursed the county for other overtime costs, equipment costs and contracts.
“Glynn County has worked incredibly hard,” Dawson said.
During Hurricane Irma, all 159 counties in Georgia were declared to be in a state of emergency. GEMA is still working to reimburse counties for work done during the storm.
Glynn County submitted its request for reimbursement in March 2018. To request the money, county officials needed to keep track of and organize a great deal of data and paperwork.
“It starts the day that we start preparations for a hurricane,” said Tamara Munson, finance manager for Glynn County. “We have to track time. We have to track equipment hour usage, vehicle usage … We have boxes and boxes and boxes for paperwork.”
The reimbursement money delivered Thursday will go into Glynn County’s “rainy day” fund, with county officials try to keep at $30 million, Munson said.
“This will go back into that, to bring that back up,” she said. “We’re still not back up to the $30 million, but this will help to bring us closer to that number.”
It’s hard to budget for a disaster, said Jay Wiggins, director of Glynn County Emergency Management. But Glynn County essentially does so, he said, which allows for the kind of coordinated preparation and immediate response seen during past hurricanes.
“It starts prior to the storm even getting here,” Wiggins said. “It’s about record keeping. Any one of our folks that do any type of preventative maintenance type of work prior to the storm, any work during the storm and any work after the storm. We keep very good records with that.”
Many hard working county employees come together in these times of emergency to make the community safe and ready for residents to return home after an evacuation, Wiggins said. But all that work comes at a cost.
“It’s not something we expect, just to be impacted by a storm like that, and it automatically overwhelms our resources,” Wiggins said.
GEMA’s goal, Dawson said, is to make sure communities are built back up even stronger than before a storm.
“Our goal is never to return the community back to the way it was,” he said. “Our goal is always to return a community to a stronger, more resilient state.”