Gov. Brian Kemp issued a blunt statement Monday about the monstrous storm threatening to rake coastal Georgia with piercing winds and surging seawater this week: “I would not take any chances with this one.”
His remarks, repeated over the course of the day, were focused on Hurricane Dorian, one of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record. But he might as well have been talking about his approach to severe weather since taking office in January.
The Republican faced an early test weeks after he was sworn in, when he ordered some state employees to stay home as wintry weather menaced Atlanta just before it hosted the Super Bowl.
And he’s taken a better-safe-than-sorry approach to Hurricane Dorian, which the National Hurricane Center warned would move “dangerously close” to the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina on Wednesday night.
The governor late Sunday ordered evacuations for residents east of I-95 in six coastal counties, then traveled to Brunswick and Savannah to urge them to leave. It was the third hurricane-related evacuation of coastal Georgia since 2016.
The evacuation orders came as forecasters shifted the hurricane’s “cone of uncertainty” eastward toward the Atlantic. Still, forecasters warn that even a slight shift in the storm’s path could send it hurtling toward the U.S. coast.
“I cannot stress enough – this storm is still moving, it’s massive,” Kemp said at one of a string of press conferences on Monday, adding: “You may be on your own if first responders are unable to get to you.”
That guarded strategy mirrors the approach that former Gov. Nathan Deal took in the final years of his two terms in office, after poor communication and slow government response to the paralyzing 2014 ice storm became a humiliating disaster for the state.
That triggered a round of soul-searching – and a leadership shakeup – that paved the way for a revamped emergency response policy, promises of improved coordination and more money to buy road-clearing equipment.
It also gave rise to a philosophy that Kemp seems to have also embraced: It’s easier to roll back an overreaction to weather than to look caught off guard by a scaled-down response.
State officials can only hope they will be accused of being too aggressive. The slow-moving storm has already pummeled the Bahamas, killing at least five people, and forecasters aren’t sure if it will stay offshore as it inches north or plow into the coast.