Albany, Dougherty Co. emergency officials activate EOC during severe weather

Albany, Dougherty Co. emergency officials activate EOC during severe weather
(Source: WALB)
(Source: WALB)
Residents taking advantage of the shelter as a safe haven. (Source: WALB)
Residents taking advantage of the shelter as a safe haven. (Source: WALB)

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - Albany and Dougherty County emergency operation center remained activated in monitoring level Monday evening.

After the hurricane in September, emergency officials said having extra staff on hand to handle the volume of calls was a top priority.

EMA Specialist Jenna Chang explained after getting hit with hundreds of calls during Hurricane Irma, emergency officials made it a point to keep the emergency phone lines open and fully staffed for 24 hours a day.

Emergency crews hauled in cases of water bottles, and packs of soda are signs they were ready for a long night of unpredictable weather.

"It allowed us to kind of up-staff so that we can start really preparing sure we make this community as safe as we can," added Chang, and also have critical resources ready to go.

After Hurricane Irma ripped through Southwest Georgia in September, all of the stakeholders were more than prepared to activate the emergency operations center.

"We understand what each of our stakeholders' needs, we understand how to work together to best serve the community and I think that's what you're really seeing in this storm response," explained Chang.

And because of it, they were able to get information out early.

So much, that even residents took heed of the warnings.

"It's been really nice that we haven't gotten a bunch of phone calls from citizens who got themselves stranded," added Chang, which in turn takes stress off of first responders.

Another lesson from last year's turbulent weather: opening up emergency hotlines early and keeping them manned 24/7.
"If you can imagine all of the calls that the 911 center is getting anyway and then add to that hundreds of calls of people just looking for information, and they need the information soon but we don't want that interrupting those life-safety calls," said Chang.

Emergency officials moved into the alternate EOC at 5 p.m. on Monday night on Honeysuckle Drive which is a tornado safe room.

The facility withstood last year's tornado.

The information lines remain open.

Those with emergencies can still call 911, and 311 for utility questions.

Anyone with storm-related questions should call 229-483-6227 or 483-6229.

FEMA staff seeks shelter

We also learned that a FEMA representative took shelter at the Albany-Dougherty emergency operations center.

Tom McKnight and a handful of FEMA officials were working in Southwest Georgia during the severe weather.

Many of them have been in the area since Hurricane Irma pummeled the region in September.

The representatives were still helping communities restore infrastructure and providing reimbursement grants from storm-related damage.

"I would say there were very ready and very well prepared for the type of bad storm system they all mobilized and moved into place and activated the emergency operations center very rapidly," said McKnight.

McKnight said FEMA staff will be monitoring the storm and help out if it's needed.

Residents' reaction

People in Albany are grateful that Mother Nature was not more harsh to South Georgia.

We received between half an inch and an inch of rain in about three hours as the storm system blew through.

Heavy downpour and winds left only small areas of flooding and no reports of damage.

The weather calmed down enough for some people to enjoy the outdoors.

"We just came out here to waste some time with the family," said Eric Still.

Still lives by Merry Acres. He says he was worried about what Monday's weather would bring.

"Coming up to today it was anticipation. You are just hoping for the best but preparing for the worst," said Still.

He's glad his family, as well as the city crews, were over-prepared.

"You know last year kind of took a lot of people by surprise, but you learn lessons from that," he added.

Fortunately, there were no surprises for Albany residents this go around though power was out at a few traffic lights in the midst of the evening commute.

"We do occasionally have that happen when we have strong storms, strong rain and wind," said City of Albany Public Information Officer Monique Broughton Knight.

But Albany Utility crews were able to get them up and running quickly. Staff had been put on standby earlier in the day.

Despite some water pileups near major roads, Still says he's happy to be outside tonight enjoying the warm temperatures.

"It was very fortunate for the people of Albany, the city. I don't think they really could have taken another hit like that this time," said Still.

Georgia Power preps for the storm 

As the storm was coming in, Georgia Power was prepping their crew to send out in case of power outages or trees down.

Georgia Power was holding about 80 employees at their Albany location this afternoon to wait out the storm.

With the threat of heavy thunderstorms and an isolated tornado, the company said they were prepared to tackle outages as they came in.

This is part of their protocol and Area Manager Jay Smith said the entire state uses this practice in case they would have to send additional help to other areas in Georgia.

"We've got crews that work throughout the state that we can move from one area to another as needed when storms hit," said Smith.
Georgia Power reminds people to keep safety first during severe weather like not going around a fallen power line and to report a shortage when it occurs.

Shelters during the storm

As a safety precaution, officials set up storm shelters in Dougherty County at designated good Samaritan locations ahead of severe storms that moved into the area Monday evening.

Second Mount Zion Baptist Church on Old Pretoria Road and Byne Memorial Baptist Church on Ledo Road both served as storm shelters Monday afternoon. Both shelters have closed since the storms moved through the area. However, Second Mt. Zion said it is prepared to reopen if it is needed.

Members of the church said they were prepared to help those who live in mobile homes.

Members picked up items such as toiletries and first aid kits. They said it's better to be safe than sorry, and they were ready to try and help as much as possible.

The pastor of Second Mt. Zion Baptist, Theodus Drake, said they wanted to do whatever they could to help.

"Whatever devastation comes, or in the event of a major crisis where we need to make our whole facility available, obviously we will do that, but right now we are just planning," explained Drake.

The primary building for shelter is the Family Life Center, which can hold up to 300 people.

The pastor said if necessary, they will open up the other parts of the church.

John Moore lives in a mobile home and says he wanted to be proactive because with weather it's hard to pinpoint a time and location.

"We don't ever know when it's going to hit so it would be better to be in a shelter," said Moore.

Moore saw the destruction of last years storms and didn't want to chance it.

"The second storm we went to my brother's house and right where we were standing a tree fell on the back part of is house," said Moore.

Moore explained keeping his boys safe was the number one priority.

"I have to see about them so I wanted them to be safe," said Moore.

Although, the storms didn't do as much damage as they could the church is looking at it as a blessing.

"The storm is wrapping up now, we are thankful. It's better to be safe than sorry," said Drake.

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