All Storm Shelters Officially Open, Volunteer Shelter Managers Needed
By LYDIA BERGLAR
March 3 was the first day that all three Dade County storm shelters were open for public use during the day’s storms. EMA Director Alex Case reported that people took shelter at all three locations, but thankfully, damage in the county was minimal. “We had about 20 trees and 15 lines down, and a couple of barns were down,” he said.
Completion of the shelters has been a long process, in part because 2020 slowed down progress and also because of rising costs. The Dade County Sports Complex shelter took an especially long time to complete, due to fiber, sewer, water line, and septic tank work.
The pre-application process for the grant began in 2015, with the final application being completed in 2016. Grants weren’t awarded until 2019.
Case said, “After we wrote the grant, the cost of the shelters went up by about $60,000 a piece, and that ate into our contract budget. In 2019, we bid for the contract work, and the prices came back very high. Public Works, myself, our deputy EMA directors, and volunteer firemen all did a lot of the work. Chief Ross in New Salem is an electrician, and he offered input and advice.”
Some final touches are yet to be completed, such as adding an ADA compliant ramp to the sports complex location, but all three shelters are fully functional. Generators are also being added to each shelter in case of loss of power.
Case added, “We’re getting some chairs, and we’ll have cots. If folks need a place for an extended stay, we can offer this up.”
EMA is working on establishing volunteers to oversee each shelter. Case noted, “I’m asking for volunteers for what we call shelter managers. When we open them, these folks can come down and supervise and make sure people are safe. We’ll also have two-way cameras in the shelters to make sure folks are safe and a television so they can have the local news.”
He explained, “EMA is a very small team, and we’re tied up with other things during emergencies. It takes the community to do this together.”
If interested in volunteering, call the non-emergency line at 706-675-4111 or email email@example.com.
In addition to providing shelter during inclement weather, Case hopes the structures will be used by the community in other ways. For example, he said, “The sports complex one could be used for rec league meetings. The South Dade one is the permanent precinct for elections, and the Davis one might also become the permanent precinct. If we need a place for people to cool off because they lost A/C, this might be a cooling shelter. In winter, we can set it up as a heating area. If we need a point of distribution for any type of medicine or anything, we’ve got three locations now that meet ADA requirements.”
Per FEMA guidelines, each shelter can fit 265 people standing side-by-side. Case continued, “These structures can withstand wind speeds of 250 miles per hour. The walls are solid concrete, the door is filled with grout, and these latches are tornado proof to hold the doors from sucking open.”
Case’s vision is to have a total of seven shelters, which would require further grants. “It would be awesome to have one in West Brow, New Salem, Trenton, South Dade, North Dade, Davis, and New Home, so we’ve got three of the seven done.”
Case added, “The justice building, a concrete building, is also always open to the public 24/7, 365. About three or four hours before a tornado watch in our county, we’ll have these shelters open so people can get here and get settled.”
Information about shelter openings is available on the county’s website, www.dadecounty-ga.gov, on the Dade County Emergency Management Facebook page, and on the Dade County, Georgia Facebook page.