County EMA uses shelter for the first time

Published 6:45 pm Wednesday, September 16, 2020

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While Hurricane Sally slowly made its way through Covington County, the Covington County Emergency Management Agency set up shop in its new shelter for the first time.

In August of 2018, the Covington County Commission agreed to let bids for a storm shelter for the county’s Emergency Management Agency. The Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded the local EMA a $235,362 grant for the project. The county paid a 25 percent match, or $34,650, to equip the facility as an emergency operations center.

The shelter holds 75 people and has three modules, the emergency operations center, a storm shelter area and another storm shelter area with two restrooms and a shower.

“We have done exercises in the shelter, but we have not had a real event until this one,” EMA director Susan Harris said. “On my end, it has been amazing, so far. Everybody is in this one room. We are able to verify information faster and the information is all right here. We can all verify the information and put it out quicker. Also, we are making sure that everything is not doubled, for example, if somebody is going to check if a tree is down, we will already know if a deputy is close to it and can check it. It’s really just helping with manpower.”

With major hurricanes and weather emergencies, the EMA has to work during them and Harris said she feels safe in their new shelter.

“It is so nice,” Harris said. “We basically just moved everything we had into this new shelter. We did purchase a couple of new laptops because that is what our employees need to respond with into our spreadsheet. We are able to just spread out now.”

As far as Hurricane Sally goes, Harris said everything was in line with what the National Weather Service told them.

“Now there are other media outlets that have been saying other things, but we work directly with the NWS and they were spot on,” Harris said. “We have not started damage assessment and all because we are still in response. Tomorrow everybody will get out and start doing their damage assessment. They will see when we can open the roads as soon as possible.”