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September 25, 2017   Columns Articles | Inside UGA | Two new UGA teams help local community during Irma

Two new UGA teams help local community during Irma


In addition to keeping the university operational when it was closed because of Tropical Storm Irma, two groups from UGA pitched in to help the local community.

The UGA Medical Reserve Corps and Citizen Emergency Response Team provided pre-credentialed volunteers to staff a citizen call center within the Athens-Clarke County Emergency Operations Center for ­12-hour shifts Sept. 11 and 12 to decrease the call volume to the 911 center.

The volunteers answered all non-emergency questions and took down information on such things as school closures and downed trees and power lines and provided that information to appropriate representatives in the emergency operations center.

Volunteers also provided resource information to callers, including evacuees from Florida, about reporting downed power lines, finding assistance for flooded homes and seeking shelter.

UGA MRC is a new unit and is looking for volunteers.

"We saw in the Irma response that if we had more volunteers, we could have supported shelters south of us," said Nina Cleveland, UGA MRC co-director. "We really need physicians and nurses."

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Students and faculty at Grady Newsource teamed up Sept. 9-10 to match evacuees with local residents offering shelter in their own homes.

Newsource students created the Hurricane Irma Switchboard when they realized there weren't many organizations in Athens that were helping people find shelter.

"The main goal of the entire project was to help as many people as possible get to safety," said Garrett Michael, a senior journalism major and Newsource student.

David Hazinski, an assistant professor of journalism, found funding for the program and oversaw it with Dodie Cantrell, a lecturer at Grady.

With help from Don McClain, an application programmer associate at Grady, Newsource students created an online form where evacuees listed their locations and how much space they needed, as well as any necessary accommodations for children and pets.

Hosts filled out the form to offer shelter, and the Newsource staff matched them with families based on similar needs and availability. The switchboard team exchanged contact information between evacuees and hosts so they could make travel arrangements.

From 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sept. 9 and 10, Michael and eight other Newsource students operated the switchboard. Michael and his partner, Emily Middleton, oversaw student volunteers and acted as liaisons between evacuees and those volunteering their homes.

"They all helped to reach out to hotels that had sold out and to various news organizations to spread the word," Michael said. "I cannot say enough about how helpful they all were in the entire process."

This is the first time Newsource has organized a program like this. Together, the team helped four families find refuge during the storm, and more than 50 households in Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina opened their doors to those in need.

"The unselfishness of the people who volunteered their homes and the bravery of the evacuees were amazing to see," said Michael.

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