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County endured year of unknowns
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SPRINGFIELD — A plague of locusts and an asteroid strike seem to be about the only things that haven’t confronted the Effingham Emergency Management Agency (EEMA) in recent years.

 EEMA is a combination of local, state and federal government agencies working together in partnership with local volunteers and businesses to mitigate, prepare for, respond to and recover from all hazards that affect a jurisdiction. Since 2018, it has dealt with multiple episodes of dangerous weather, a gas leak at a school, military and civilian plane crashes, and more.

The past year was particularly trying because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Just like with anything else, there was so much unknown going into it,” EEMA Director Clint Hodges said. “We were kind of up against an enemy that we knew very little about. We tried to come up universal precautions that would make everybody safe.”

The precautions recommended by the CDC were constantly evolving.

“I told someone that it wasn’t so much that they changed day to day. It was almost changing from minute to minute there for a little while,” Hodges said. “There is still so much that is not completely understood.”

Hodges said he is “a little bit surprised” by how well Effingham County has endured the pandemic, especially its schools. Schools opened on time last August and none have shut down at any point since.

“I will commend them,” Hodges said. “I think they did an awesome job in making decisions based on the evidence they had at hand.”

Hodges said COVID-19 has been an EEMA focal point for many months but hardly the only one.

“You can never lose sight of other stuff in play,” he said. “We were fortunate that we had a rather quiet tropical season (in 2020) as far as we were concerned. We had that sitting on the back burner because at any time it could have come into play.

“We had to continue to plan and work on contingencies.”

One of Hodges’ biggest worries in 2020 was figuring out how to meet social distancing requirements in a hurricane shelter.

“We did not want to evacuate people unless it came to the absolute worst-case scenario,” Hodges said, “because you have to make sure you are not evacuating somebody somewhere where the risk is higher. You may evacuate somebody from a little bit of wind into a shelter that is crowded and might jeopardize their health.

“These are all variables that you have to weigh and balance.”

EEMA assisted in the early stages of COVID-19 vaccinations.

“We hosted a joint drive-through clinic with the Georgia Department of Public Health,” Hodges said. “We support them in whatever they need.”

Hodges said the EEMA tries to prepare for any emergency.

“It’s not just hurricanes. It’s not just the pandemic,” he said. “We look for any incident that could cause major damage to this community. It could be something as simple as a major drought.

“That could affect not just the water tables and wildfires, but agriculture.”

Hodges said the EEMA is working on long-term recovery plans for a variety of disasters.

“If we have people displaced for long periods of time, we want to be sure we have the mechanisms in place to take care of them — not just for two, three, four or five days.

“We try to look five to 10 years ahead.”