GEMA/HS Dispatch December 2017 Edition - Page 22

UGA staff, students provide cruc I By Julia Regeski n any emergency, being thrown into a room with hundreds of other people working to keep a large community safe can be incredibly challenging; but imagine being in that situation with only a moment’s notice, ready and willing to help in any way possible. For a few members of the Institute for Disaster Management at the University of Georgia College of Public Health, that’s exactly what they faced. As Hurricane Irma moved toward the state, Associate Director of the Institute Dr. Curt Harris reached out to the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency to offer their assistance. The Institute supports faculty, students and staff as they engage in risk analysis, long-term disaster planning, and the development of response capabilities and disaster management infrastructure. Bearing that in mind, Harris knew that students and staff alike would be able to offer the state help in any way needed. Despite the unpredictability and challenges of diving head-on into an evolving disaster, Harris put the call out to students and teachers to pack their bags and head to Atlanta. One individual that responded was Professor Tawny Waltz. “Our group is very proactive. If something comes up, we want to jump on it and give our students as many opportunities as possible.” Waltz used her unique experience working with local hospitals to serve in Emergency Support Function 8: Public Health. “Even though the Department of Public Health had their own people, a lot of them don’t work with hospitals directly as much as Dr. Harris and I do,” said Waltz. “I didn’t realize how beneficial all these partnerships we developed in the field were and how we were able to utilize that. I ended up sitting next to someone who was kind of new to the state, and when she’d ask me if I know anyone in a hospital, I was quickly able to direct them to the right person. I didn’t realize how valuable that was.” Waltz worked alongside GEMA/HS Planner Lizbeth Ortiz, who said that having assistance from Waltz proved valuable because of her specialized knowledge. Waltz had experience working with an online board that helps match patients with functional needs with facilities that are able to take them in. “I didn’t know how to use that board,” said Ortiz. “It was good to have somebody who knew about it learning, between all the stress, how to help.” That stress came from an unusual situation that, unfortunately, was difficult to plan for. In Chatham County alone, Ortiz estimates there were 50 residents with evacuation needs that couldn’t stay in a traditional shelter. ESF-8 had planned on relocating these residents further inland to qualified locations, but as Hurricane Irma’s track shifted, those locations needed to be evacuated as well. Despite the new challenges, the professionals from UGA were comfortable assisting, partly because they had worked with GEMA/HS prior to Hurricane Irma in state exercises. “We knew each other, and that’s a good thing,” said Ortiz. “They already had a really good understanding of what we do and how to do it.” Harris believes most, if not, all of his students have an understanding of what responding to a hurricane entails and gives them the opportunity to participate in actual disasters. “We know disasters are going to happen. It’s not a matter of if, but when. Students know we are “If something comes up, we want to jump on it and give our students as many opportunities as possible.” 22