By Elizabeth Hardister
Hurricanes produce devastating storm surge, winds, flooding, and tornadoes. It is rare that a
hurricane makes landfall in Georgia, and this month’s Hurricane Irma produced the first-ever
tropical storm warning seen in Atlanta. Athens saw significant severe weather resulting in road
closures, downed trees, and power outages.
After UGA re-opened following the impacts of Hurricane Irma, Roosevelt hosted a timely forum to
discuss the recent hurricanes impacting the southeast. Following a brief introduction to the United
States’ disaster management system, we examined policy ideas for sheltering and healthcare
decision-making in hurricanes.
As Irma made landfall, I was at the Georgia State Operations Center assisting with mass care
and sheltering services. During this response and the response to Hurricanes Harvey, a
considerable number of “Good Samaritan” shelters that activated to provide services to those
affected by the storms. During the flooding of Houston caused by Hurricane Harvey, one mega-
church was even chastised on social media for not opening its doors to shelter those affected by
Although these Good Samaritan shelters were neither certified nor supported by the state, they
took on substantial numbers of evacuees. We discussed the benefits and drawbacks of the
current sheltering policy, and whether these Good Samaritan shelters should be encouraged,
supported, and publicized by state emergency management officials. One measure suggested
involved implementing a quick inventory or rating system in order to better communicate the
capabilities of Good Samaritan shelters to the public.
We reviewed the role of voluntary organizations in disasters such as the American Red Cross. In
light of the Good Samaritan shelters seen during Harvey and Irma, we evaluated the merits of
maintaining flexibility in accepting spontaneous, event-based offers of help, and encouraging
long-term, continuous planning prior to an event. While this phenomenon presents a tricky
logistical challenge, it presents a heartening display of the “Whole Community” concept of
emergency management, which encourages a shift away from a traditional reliance solely on
government in disasters towards leveraging the resources of an entire community. Ideally, these
Good Samaritans will be inspired to engage in long-term efforts for future disasters and become
contributors to the coalitions of voluntary organizations active in disasters.
After our discussion on sheltering, we spoke about vulnerable populations that are
disproportionately impacted by disasters, specifically examining policies for healthcare facilities.
The vulnerability of healthcare facility patients and residents in combination with the complexity of
evacuations and sheltering-in- place makes decision-making in anticipation of hurricanes
extremely difficult. During Hurricane Katrina, over 200 residents and patients perished in
healthcare facilities. Right now, Puerto Rico’s hospitals are facing austere conditions following the
landfall of Hurricane Maria, due to power outages and dwindling supplies.
Just this week, we have seen a notable policy development regarding this issue. Florida
Governor Rick Scott has issued an emergency rule mandating that nursing homes and other
assistive living facilities, “obtain ample resources, including a generator and the appropriate
amount of fuel, to sustain operations and maintain comfortable temperatures for at least 96 hours following a power outage.” This rule follows the deaths of eight residents at the Rehabilitation
Center at Hollywood Hills after the center lost power during Hurricane Irma.
Following our discussion of the issues of sheltering and healthcare decision-making, we also
briefly reflected on the role that social media now plays in disasters. While social media is a
powerful tool that emergency managers and responders leverage to communicate risk and
identify needs, misinformation spread via social media may be irritating (e.g. the incredible storm-
chasing shark) and even dangerous (hoax forecasts) if unchecked.
In light of the significant impacts of this recent series of hurricanes in the Gulf and Atlantic – we
have yet to see a day this month without a hurricane – we debated the role of climate change in
the incidence and severity of disasters. We reflected on efforts to mitigate these events,
particularly in reference to the current administration’s trend of deregulation and general denial of
We also discussed appropriate ways to support communities impacted by hurricanes and other
disasters. While some may wish to send in-kind donations of goods, disaster relief experts
advocate donating money to trusted local relief organizations as the most effective means of
providing for the needs of those affected.
If these issues pique your interest, I’d encourage you to check out UGA’s Institute for Disaster
Management, which is now offering a new undergraduate minor in disaster management. For
more information on emergency preparedness specific to UGA and Athens, I recommend
checking out the resources provided by the fantastic UGA Office of Emergency Preparedness. If
you’d like to support the preparedness of your community, consider joining UGA’s Campus
Emergency Response Team and Medical Reserve Corps. Additionally, the Red Cross at UGA
provides opportunities to volunteer with local emergency preparedness and relief activities, raises
funds for the national American Red Cross’ relief efforts, and can connect those interested to
training to volunteer with national disaster relief operations such as Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
Elizabeth Hardister is a fourth-year student at the University of Georgia and a Master of Public
Health candidate in Disaster Management. She researches hurricane evacuation planning with
the Institute for Disaster Management.
Like what you read? Ready to discuss policy? Want an introduction to policy analysis? Join us at our next Roosevelt Issues Forum on 10/12 to discuss the opioid crisis. Also, make sure to join the Roosevelt@UGA listserv so that you can partake in our general body meetings every Thursday at 6:30 in Sanford 112.