GEMA/HS Dispatch December 2017 Edition - Page 10

Irma evacuees find respite, assistance along Georgia highways By Brandy Mai D uring a natural disaster, citizens search myriad sources to receive information on evacuations, travel and sheltering. An unlikely ally in helping those citizens is Georgia’s visitor information centers, which assisted more than 233,000 people across the state during Hurricane Irma. The centers not only provided a much- needed respite during evacuees’ travels, they also provided useful information on lodging and traffic. The Tourism Division at the Georgia Department of Economic Development attributes their success in helping so many people from lessons learned during (Hurricane) Matthew and their ability to gather information from multiple sources to provide to travelers. “Our experience in Hurricane Matthew told us that hundreds of thousands of evacuees would be coming into Georgia looking for shelter and lodging to wait out the storm,” said Emily Murray, Senior Communications Specialist for the Tourism Division. “When we saw Irma heading our way, we tried to be as responsive as we could.” When someone is traveling for vacation, one of the first places they look for information is the state tourism website, explained Murray. Knowing that out-of-state evacuees and Georgia residents also turn to tourism sites during a disaster, the Tourism Division recognized that it could be a valuable resource for evacuees. Murray and the tourism team gathered information from various media and social media sites, Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency updates, and from tourism offices across the state. This was then compiled into a responsive website that travelers could use at the centers and from mobile devices. Interactive maps were created to make everything more accessible. “Our team at Georgia Tourism created a Hurricane Information Page that provided real-time hotel availability, evacuation details, GEMA/HS updates, FAQs and other important information,” said Kevin Langston, Deputy Commissioner for the Tourism Division. The temporary site they built provided critical information to out-of-state evacuees and Georgia Georgia Visitors Center Activity - Hurricane Irma Visitors seen on busiest day of Hurricane Irma evacuation Total visitors helped during Hurricane Irma evacuation operations Total number of visitors at the Valdosta Visitors Center 10