A who’s who of Bartow County public officials were in attendance Friday morning for an emergency preparedness meeting on Elizabeth St. in Cartersville to plan for the unknown as Hurricane Irma approaches.
Emergency Management Agency Director Paul Cuprowski led the all-encompassing meeting that covered everything from emergency transit to sheriff’s office schedules to care for the horses and dogs of evacuees.
While first responders and public officials seemed to cover every base and be prepared for every scenario over the course of the hour-and-15-minute meeting, Cuprowski noted there’s no ironclad way to plan for the unpredictable effects of a hurricane.
“We’re going with the best predictions that we know,” Cuprowski said. “Some things are given. We know we’re going to have evacuees. We know we’re going to have some fuel issues on the interstate. We know people are going to be tired and have medical issues. There are some things that are sort of built in.
“Every department knows what the other department is doing. Everybody’s aware of the big plan. There’s no solo acts out there.”
The major development of the meeting is that Liberty Square Church will serve as an emergency shelter for evacuees, opening at 10 a.m. today.
With the exception of service animals, the shelter is not a pet friendly facility. However, there will be an animal care unit on site to house pets.
There are currently local RV campgrounds available for those traveling with campers. Primitive camp sites are available as well.
Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor also chimed in and praised Liberty Square Church for “always being the first” to volunteer to help.
Bartow transit, the sheriff’s office, EMS, Cartersville Police Department and both city and county fire departments advised they would keep people on call for possible increased emergency activity.
Parks and campgrounds in the county will also be kept open and manned by county employees to provide additional places to stay.
It was also said that Bartow County has 2½ days of water in reserve in case it’s needed.
The main concern of the meeting was helping evacuees. While Bartow County is expecting inclement weather and police and fire departments are prepared for power outages and downed trees, Interstate 75 has already seen an influx of northbound travelers with Florida license plates.
Officials addressed the needs of Bartow County residents as well in the meeting, but Cuprowski said the main focus right now is dealing with evacuees.
The forecast is constantly changing, but as of the meeting Friday morning, officials were operating under the latest forecasts that Irma’s track will go up I-75 with a turn to the west, and could hit Bartow County Tuesday morning. However, as of the meeting, there were no watches, warnings or advisories for Bartow.
“There’s 27 different models that we talked about, so we’re anticipating winds and rain. A wind event of 40-60 mph is really what it looked like [Friday],” Cuprowski said. “That may change. It’s changing hourly. So the next weather briefing we go to may be very different, but it’s really not anything different than what we get on a monthly basis with the severe thunderstorms we get. It may last a little bit longer, but we’re not expecting too much damage, and I really don’t think Bartow County is going to be the big side of the event.”
As of the current weather reports, caring for the evacuees is the primary objective.
Rumor quickly spread throughout the room that hotels are booked along I-75 all the way up to north of Chattanooga, Tennessee.
“The first leg of this is humanitarian efforts,” Cuprowski said. “We have families on the road who have left their home, grabbed what they could in probably their economy car, left their home and headed north, not knowing if they’re going to return or, if they do return, what that’s going to be like. So we have to keep that in mind.
“It’s all about the people. Human helping human, and they’re our neighbors. Even if they’re 800 miles or 2,000 miles away from us, they’re our neighbors and they’re human beings and we want to take care of their neighbors and their pets, and nobody is better at that than Bartow County.”
Because of the influx of evacuees and lack of available hotels, Cuprowski said there are 10 approved and inspected Red Cross shelters in Bartow County, but the county only expects to need one as of Friday.
American Red Cross Community Volunteer Leader Janet Queen said at the meeting she has an agreement lined up to provide food for evacuees, adding it only takes two or three hours to get an additional shelter up and running if needed.
“This is what Red Cross does, we respond to disasters,” Queen said. “What we’re looking at now is sheltering and feeding the evacuees that are coming from Florida and south Georgia. We have partnered with a local church here and have a plan in place.
“The Red Cross is here to serve. We’re going to take care of the sheltering and the feeding of this group as we always do and we’re trained to do this.”
Queen advised that Red Cross prefers monetary donations rather than clothing and food, and donations can be made through the Red Cross’ website. Queen suggested to note the donation should go to Bartow County.
Overall, Cuprowski feels Bartow County is as ready as possible for Hurricane Irma.
“We are as best prepared as we can be, I think. We demonstrated that in the room,” Cuprowski said. “Everybody is playing a part, everybody is doing their fair share, and it’s all about partnerships.
“Now, will it work perfectly? We don’t know. We hope it does, but every time we have another event, it’s a learning experience. We get better as a community and as a government every time we have an event.”