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Pogo: 'We have met the enemy, and he is us'
Grass is always greener...
Don GardnerColor
Don Gardner is the UGA Extension agent for Bryan County. - photo by File photo

Now that we are past the bulk of the response to Hurricane Matthew the recovery is getting into full swing.

While the evidence of the storm is disappearing inland, the coast and Georgia’s barrier islands in particular will be cleaning up for the next couple of months.

This was not even a direct hit. The storm eye stayed off shore and the storm was only a Category 2 and we are looking at five months for debris removal.

Emergency Management Agency directors along Georgia’s coast are busy assessing response and recovery operations and looking for ways to improve response when, not if, we are visited by another tropical storm. At this stage it is all about lessons learned and improving plans.

Did we, the public, learn anything from this? And if we learned anything, will we forget it before the next storm and keep repeating the same mistakes? Unfortunately I believe we, the public, haven’t learned a thing. The storm was such a minor hit and response was so well done I am afraid the public will think they have experienced a hurricane and will expect the same fast response and re-entry to their homes and businesses if we get a direct hit by a major hurricane.

During Hurricane Matthew my home was without electrical power for only 34 hours and without water for 24 hours. The power came back on at 3 a.m. so I know the power company crews were working around the clock. My wife experienced Hurricane Hugo when it went through Puerto Rico in 1989 (She wasn’t my wife then, unfortunately for me).

They were without electricity and water for 30 days. That’s what a major hurricane will do to us. Think what that does for mold growth in homes built to be air conditioned. What does that do to children missing a month or more of school? What does that do to family finances?

I understand the desire to get right back to your home as soon as the storm clears, but if we suffered a direct hit from a major storm, that just would not be physically possible or at all safe.

Nothing slows down the restoration of electrical power and clearing debris like a bunch of blithely ignorant civilians getting underfoot of response crews.

We, and I include myself in this, have the mistaken belief that our presence is somehow going to make things better. Did you bring a couple weeks of water? I hope you brought enough for everybody!

Do you have an environmentally and medically safe place to poo? You will need a shovel to dig a latrine and even then the water table is so close to the surface in much of this county that a latrine is not even an option.

I hope you brought lots of insect repellent. Seven days after the storm you can count on a new mosquito hatch from all the standing water left by the storm. So you planned on cutting and hammering framing studs all by hand? Again, there is no electricity for power tools.

What are you going to do for food? I know in Richmond Hill after Matthew the McDonalds at Publix on 144 was the only hot food in Richmond Hill for a day. Publix is the only grocery store with enough generator capacity to keep perishables cool and run their entire operation stand alone. They had the capacity to supply power to not only their store but the McDonald’s as well.

Let’s say you didn’t evacuate and rode the storm out. You emerge and have no electricity and a tree is down blocking your driveway. You are not seriously planning on starting that chainsaw when there are no ways to evacuate you to a hospital if you get hurt?

Oh, you have a generator? Are you plugging it into your house or just plugging it in to your refrigerator and TV? Two things that send chills up the backs of power crews during storm recovery are the sound of home generators and dads with chainsaws.

Plugging a generator into your house circuit without isolating the house from the electrical grid will send the power upstream and kill the power crews working to restore service.

Several years ago some dads with chainsaws were sawing on a tree that had been blown over in a storm. Some of the roots of the tree were still in the ground and as they removed the limbs it lightened the load holding the tree down. A large limb was cut off and the trunk of the tree trunk stood back up into place. Shortly after that a mother started searching for her toddler. It was over an hour before anyone thought to pull the trunk down.

Tragically the child had decided to play in the hole made when the tree fell over. It is not that dads do not know how to safely use a chainsaw, though far too many do not. Equipment safety was not the problem.

The problem was not understanding the forces involved and taking the job seriously enough to maintain operational safety.

Your EMA director knows how to respond to and recover from disasters as quickly and safely as possible, but only if we let him. Pogo said it best, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

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