— Volume VII (2011) —

Americus, Georgia: The Case Study of Disasters Serving the Role of Facilitators and Expeditors of Progress and Betterment

Marc Hyden and Charley English

INTRODUCTION

There is a long standing debate – between emergency management professionals and among academics – on the subject of whether local communities are generally better off before or after being struck by a natural disaster. This question has yet to be resolved and, while opinions are often freely proffered, they are generally unsubstantiated by a formal and systematic scientific study. Even though this is a common theme of discussion within the emergency management community, there have been minimal to nearly no detailed studies pertaining to this subject. The overarching goal of this article is to provide a case study that examines whether or not the occurrence of a disaster promoted recovery and betterment or led to stagnation and worsening within one community: Americus, Georgia.

In order to declare one viewpoint as the victor, it must be clearly understood what the phrase “better off” actually means within this study. It is an all-encompassing phrase meant to describe the state of the community as an improvement representing a successful recovery. To determine that the city/county has indeed been improved after the disaster, the jurisdiction must be in relatively better economic standing (a) as compared to their previous trends or (b) similar to or better than the control group which acts as a gauge to reveal how the region is or should be trending. The jurisdiction must also see improvement of the physical structures within the city/county, as well as in the government infrastructure and services provided to residents.

There are potential implications in the outcome of this analysis. If the case study reveals that the city is worse than it was before the natural disaster, then changes should be made in the current handling of natural disasters to rectify these problems. Conversely, if the data shows the city as being in roughly the same state as it was prior to the natural disaster or better off than before the disaster, then it would seem that the current national system of response to and recovery from disasters is adequate and is performing as it should. There will always be room for improvement, but this outcome would seem to promote the current system as adept and competent.

For this article, the city of Americus, Georgia was chosen as the subject of the case study. To come to a broad conclusion concerning whether all or most disasters promote betterment and progress, a multitude of case studies must be completed covering a large range of disasters and disaster sites. This study on Americus is simply the first step, and it will only provide a conclusion regarding Americus’ condition three years after being ravaged by a natural disaster (as opposed to making a claim regarding all locations which have experienced a disaster).

Previous Research

Very little has been published regarding whether a local community is better before or after a disaster. While some literature examines whether disasters have a positive or negative effect on the economy of a nation or a large region, this literature is hotly debated and often contradictory. While many of the studies postulate the effects of a disaster from the aspect of macroeconomics, it seems reasonable that the theories discussed in this literature can be applied to the recovery of a local community such as Americus.

A publication from the Business Civic Leadership Center asserts that there are a multitude of factors which affect the recovery within a community, including the magnitude of the disaster, intergovernmental coordination, accessibility of funding, and the degree of damage to businesses and housing. This publication also states that most communities attempt to rebuild just as they were before the storm, but once they realize this is not possible, they are in a strong position to modernize the infrastructure and services of the community. 1

According to the Australian Journal of Emergency Management, natural disasters offer great opportunities in that circumstances allow communities to become more sustainable by permitting new construction and development, replacing outdated building projects with state-of-the-art facilities, and restructuring the economy. 2 Another study concluded that “[t]he results provide strong evidence concerning the fact that natural disasters do serve as creative destruction, providing an incentive to replace technology in disaster prone countries.” 3 It should be understood that this conclusion was derived from a study based solely on developing countries. The World Bank found that developing nations and regions which experienced storms recovered quite well. These nations and regions experience a short lived negative impact on GDP, but that effect is minimal and recovery does not take long. This hypothesis, however, was based on developing countries and not rich industrialized nations such as the United States. 4 According to a study by Mark Skimore and Hideki Toya “climatic disasters are positively correlated with economic growth, human capital investment, and growth in total factor productivity.” 5 The authors came to this conclusion by examining long term growth in GDP per capita within eighty-nine countries from 1960 to 1990.

Yet another study focusing on the medium-term effect of economic growth claimed “disasters do affect economic growth – but not always negatively, and often only specific sectors of the economy.” 6 According to Stefan Hochrainer, the “analysis aimed at better defining a sort of ‘middle ground’ identifying circumstances under which disasters have the potential to cause significant medium term economic impacts.” 7 The medium term discussed was a time frame of up to five years, and the findings concluded that generally natural disasters cause negative effects in the medium term. Using data related to the macroeconomic effects of GDP per capita, another study claimed “we find that large disasters have a negative effect on output both in the short and long run.” 8 The authors further stated “smaller disasters tend to not have a significant effect on output neither in the short nor in the long run.” 9 According to this assertion, the natural disaster in Americus would not be considered a large disaster. Tobias Rasmussen asserts that “natural disasters are typically associated with an immediate contraction in economic output, a worsening of external and fiscal balances, and an increase in poverty.” 10

There is much disagreement regarding the effects of natural disasters in the short, medium, and long term. It should be noted that there is a large discrepancy regarding variables influencing these economic numbers, and it should further be understood that most of these publications are studying the macroeconomic effects. Unfortunately, the effects of disasters on a local economy such as Americus have not been sufficiently studied.

DISASTER STRIKES AMERICUS

At 9:15 PM on March 1, 2007, the town of Americus, Georgia was devastated by a category three tornado as classified under the Enhanced Fujita Scale. 11 The tornado carved a thirty-eight-mile path through Sumter County, which is where Americus is located, and the tornado was reported to be a half mile in width at its maximum. The city of Americus incurred the brunt of the destruction, and hundreds of homes and businesses were destroyed. Most notably, Sumter Regional Hospital, which is situated in the heart of Americus, was demolished by the tornado. Two deaths were attributed to the storm, and many more people were hospitalized. 12 President Bush claimed it was “tough devastation,” and this became a presidentially declared disaster on March 3, 2007. 13 Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue said “It was worse than I had feared. The hospital was hit, but the devastation within the area of Sumter County and Americus was more than I imagined…. It's just a blessing frankly that we didn't have more fatalities than we did.” 14

Disaster Damages and Losses

By the time the storm cleared, 993 houses and 217 businesses were damaged or destroyed. Ten churches, eight recreational facilities/parks, three cemeteries, and two schools were also damaged. 15 Sumter Regional Hospital, which was the third largest employer in Americus, was directly hit and its destruction left Americus without a fully operational hospital. 16 The public assistance claim for the city of Americus was approximately 77.4 million dollars (of which the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is currently committed to contribute roughly 75 million dollars to aid in the reconstruction of the hospital). The individual assistance claims for the municipality were slightly over $800,000 and the insured losses within the city of Americus alone reached well over 100 million dollars. 17 Initial fear for life gradually turned to economic concerns fueled by homelessness, joblessness, and the loss of services. In addition to the economic woes attributed to the storm, Americus would soon have to deal with a global recession unmatched by any since the Great Depression.

Adding to the already shrinking economy – due to the storm and recession – there were fears in the Sumter County region that, if the hospital was not to be rebuilt, a complete economic collapse would occur turning Americus into a virtual ghost town. Sumter Regional Hospital was a major employer in Americus and interconnected with many of the businesses within the city. It was also feared that, without a hospital, the enrollment rates of the post-secondary educational institutions within Americus would suffer. This assumption was based on the belief that fewer prospective college students and nonresidents would be willing to relocate to an area without a major hospital because of the lack of emergency health services and because collegiate institutions rely on the hospital for certain technical studies.

Recovery from Disaster

Once the aggregate of the data presented in this study – examples of new infrastructure, the redevelopment, the new county-wide alert system, and the opinions of locals – is examined and scrutinized, it becomes evident that nearly every piece is in place to acknowledge Americus as a city which has recovered from the March disaster and become a better community. From the economic figures to the reconstruction of the city, everything points to a relatively healthy town, with the exception of one fundamental component: the hospital. While there is currently no permanent hospital in Americus, FEMA constructed a prefabricated hospital which opened April 1, 2008 and has a five year shelf life. A new hospital is being built, and it is slated to be fully operational by 2011. 18 Once the construction of the hospital is completed, there should be no doubt that Americus has fully recovered from the tornado and become a better city than before the storm.

METHODOLOGY

There are many economic indicators which must be examined in order to understand the scope of destruction the tornado inflicted upon the economy of Americus in the short and long term. The difficulty in discovering the true extent of the storm-related economic damage is masked by the recession which is a major contributor to Americus’ current economic state.

Control Group

To be able to factor out the recession to gain a better understanding of what the tornado actually caused, a comparison must be made between Americus and similar cities which did not experience a devastating disaster near the time Americus did. Within Georgia, comparisons to the cities of Waycross (Ware County), Thomasville (Thomas County), and Moultrie (Colquitt County) were used to measure how much of Americus’ economic distress resulted from the recession and how much was a consequence of being struck by the tornado. This control group will also be used to determine if the town of Americus has recovered from the damages inflicted by the tornado or possibly even become a better, stronger, and more dynamic community. A fuller description of this control group is provided in Appendix A.

Comparison Points

In order to decipher the impact of the tornado on the economy of Americus, several indicators were examined. These include population growth or decline, hotel/motel taxes received, and business license fees received for the corresponding cities. Other data analyzed within the respective counties were special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) totals, average monthly food stamp recipients and the correlating dollar amounts, the funds distributed through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, new home permits, average annual pay, and the poverty rate. Micropolitan information provided clues as well, such as unemployment rates. (A micropolitan area is a geographic region defined by the United States Office of Management and Budget as an area comprised of an urban core with a minimum population of 10,000 but less than a population of 50,000). 19 Lastly, the enrollment figures of the colleges and universities within the corresponding cities were also evaluated as a guideline for determining the health of the economy and the town’s ability to attract non-residents.

The data collected and examined predominantly represent the years 2006 to 2009 to show the economic trends prior to and following the 2007 disaster. The premise of this study is if the percentage of change between the economic numbers representing Americus for the years 2006 and 2009 is alike or better than the cities to which it is compared, then the data shows that Americus has either (a) rebounded and is now on par with similar cities or (b) has outperformed the comparable communities and is now better off economically than before the disaster. Conversely, if the changes in Americus’ data are worse than the control group, Americus has not rebounded or is in a worse position than before the tornado.

When available, if the data from the years 2006 through 2009 does not offer strong support for a conclusion, figures from 2003 to 2005 will be presented to display previous trends in order to formulate a hypothesis. The corresponding information and data for the year 2007 was also collected, but it shouldn’t generally be emphasized as definitive evidence of the current state of the economy because this period was during and shortly following the time of the tornado. It can be assumed Americus experienced extreme highs and lows during 2007 and possibly some abnormal fluctuations in 2008 because the tornado struck on March 1, 2007. If normalcy has returned to Americus, the 2009 data sets should be representative of that.

There are multiple variables which can influence economic figures, and it is often difficult to prove an undeniable causal relationship between the state of the economy and certain external factors. The economic analysis within this study will attempt to provide the most logical and rational explanation for the condition of the economy within Americus. Unfortunately, some data which would grant additional validity to this study – such as figures regarding GDP per capita, bankruptcies, foreclosures, and housing sales – is unavailable because these are somewhat sparsely populated areas which have not attracted the interest for previous comprehensive studies or data collections.

This study utilizes communities which are similar to Americus but have not experienced a major natural disaster as Americus did within the designated time frame. Much of South Georgia did experience wildfires during 2007, and some of these fires were presidentially-declared disasters. Of the four counties discussed, only Ware County (where Waycross is located) experienced a mentionable impact due to the wildfires. However, the effect on Waycross was very negligible because not a single building was destroyed, there were no deaths, and the fires predominantly affected only wild and swamp lands. 20 Given these facts, this should not affect the use of Waycross within this study as a comparison city which was not affected by a disaster within the designated time period.

ECONOMIC ANALYSIS

To gain a clear understanding of whether Americus was truly better off before or after the disaster, economic data must be scrutinized, abstract clues must be considered, opinions of locals must be evaluated, and the makeover of the city must be revealed. Throughout this study an abundance of information and data will be discussed and hypotheses will be formulated.

Population Variances

To perform a broad economic analysis, many different indicators must be analyzed, and the first indicator studied within this article is population change. Population change within any city will have periodic fluctuations due to disasters or economic pressure. Unfortunately, the data sets correlating with population growth within this study do not include information for the year 2009 due to the date this study was completed. The population of Americus is a little troubling prima facie because from 2006 to 2008 there was a negative population growth of 0.53 percent; on a positive note, during this period the population was shrinking at a much slower rate as compared to 2003-2005. 21

This population decline is likely representative of a minor exodus influenced by the economy and/or the effects of the tornado. During this same time Waycross experienced a miniscule loss of 0.03 percent, while Thomasville and Moultrie experienced population increases of 2.55 and 2.6 percent. 22 Americus was the only city within this study to experience a noticeably negative population growth from the years 2006 to 2008, and this could very well be illustrative of a poor economy motivating citizens to seek work elsewhere.

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Population
Americus Waycross Thomasville Moultrie
2003 16,877 14,946 18,204 14,552
2004 16,676 14,812 18,212 14,736
2005 16,534 14,745 18,563 14,743
2006 16,612 14,779 18,807 15,019
2007 16,620 14,759 18,993 15,184
2008 16,524 14,774 19,286 15,409
Population Change
Americus Waycross Thomasville Moultrie
2003-2005 -2.03% -1.34% 1.97% 1.31%
2006-2008 -0.53% -0.03% 2.55% 2.60%

It is important to note that some estimates for Americus hint at a sizeable population growth in 2009, but these estimates did not follow the same guidelines as those just presented from the United States Census Bureau. 23 Thus, the figures for the year 2009 could not be considered scientific or acceptable for the purposes of this study. Without accurate and systematic figures for the populations of these cities in 2009, it would seem that the loss of residents in Americus was a local problem, possibly attributable to the natural disaster.

Without the current 2009 population figures to provide clarity on the subject, the data for the years 2003 to 2005 was examined to determine whether the loss of population within Americus was an anomaly, a result of the disaster, or due to economic conditions. Americus experienced negative population growth of 2.03 percent from 2003 to 2005, which is considerably worse than the negative growth rate from 2006 to 2008. 24 From 2003 to 2005, Waycross exhibited a population loss of 1.34 percent, Thomasville attained population growth of 1.97 percent, and Moultrie saw an increase in population of 1.31 percent. 25

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The population growth data for Americus shows the city consistently underperforming all of the cities within this study from 2003 to 2008. This reinforces the theory of a localized problem causing negative population growth in Americus. The effects of the natural disaster may be a minor influence on the population change, but it is important to note that Americus’ population is shrinking at a slower pace than before the tornado struck. This singular data set gives the impression that Americus is doing better than it was before the natural disaster, but there is still an underlying and preexisting problem which does not implicate the tornado as the main source of the negative growth in population. Business closures and the overall economic climate due to the recession are the likely causes of the loss of populace.

Unemployment Rate

The unemployment rate is an important tool and indicator for determining the health of the economy, and this indicator presents Americus as a city on the right track. The Bureau of Labor Statistics maintains and updates these figures on a monthly basis. Unfortunately, they do not provide the unemployment rates for the individual cities examined within this study, but they do, however, publish the data for the respective micropolitan areas.

The Americus micropolitan area claimed an increase of unemployment rate from 2006 to October 2009 of 105.17 percent. 26 There is an obvious rise in unemployment after the tornado struck Americus in 2007, and there is a surge of unemployment in 2009. The increase of unemployment in 2009 does not seem as though it could be attributed solely to the storm though because (a) it represents such a large increase two years after the disaster and (b) the cities in the control group experienced similarly large increases in the unemployment rate.

Unemployment Rate
Americus Waycross Thomasville Moultrie
2003 5.50% 4.80% 4.30% 5.20%
2004 5.80% 4.90% 4.40% 4.80%
2005 6.70% 5.10% 4.40% 5.00%
2006 6% 4.63% 4.00% 4.20%
2007 7.01% 4.57% 4.10% 4.50%
2008 7.55% 6.10% 5.70% 6.00%
2009 12.31% 9.74% 8.68% 8.52%
Unemployment Rate Change
Americus Waycross Thomasville Moultrie
2003-2005 21.81% 6.25% 2.33% -3.85%
2006-2009 105.17% 110.37% 117.25% 102.86%

The unemployment rates in Americus look worse than the other cities at first glance because they are higher in each individual year, but the rates were substantially higher – before the disaster – than any of the other cities studied. When analyzing the change from 2006 to 2009, Americus fared better than Waycross and Thomasville. While Moultrie exhibited less of a percent of increase than Americus, the difference was nearly negligible. This data suggests that Americus was suffering from economic woes worse than the other cities prior to the tornado, but the percentage increase in unemployment is less than two of the three towns discussed. This seems to imply that Americus either has recovered from the disaster or is well on the way to recovery.

When the same unemployment data from the 2003 to 2005 period is analyzed, the previously stated theory is emphasized. The Americus micropolitan area claimed a growth in unemployment rate by 21.81 percent from 2003 to 2005. 27 During this time, Waycross’ unemployment rate grew by 6.25 percent, the Thomasville micropolitan area reported an increase of unemployment rate of only 2.33 percent, and the Moultrie micropolitan area unemployment rate declined by 3.85 percent. 28

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It is obvious that the unemployment rate in Americus increased at a much faster pace between 2003 and 2005 than in any other micropolitan area discussed. This, again, seems to allude to a prior economic problem within the Americus area. Americus’ unemployment percentages increased on pace or at a slower rate than the comparison cities for the years 2006 to 2009. This seems to support the theory that Americus is in relatively better shape than it was prior to the storm, even though it is still suffering from major economic problems which do not implicate the disaster as the root cause.

Poverty Rate

The poverty rate, reported by the United States Census Bureau, provides a broad view of what percentage of people live in poverty within a calendar year, but the report of the poverty rate does not provide a definitive conclusion regarding the recovery of Americus. 29 The Census Bureau uses calculations dependent upon several variables to determine what the threshold of the minimum income is in a particular community which allows for an acceptable standard of living for an individual or family. If the individual or family earns less than the threshold determined by the federal government, they are considered to live in poverty. 30

The poverty rates posted by the United States Census Bureau do not include the cities discussed within this study, but they do include the corresponding counties. These counties are all sparsely populated, and a large percentage of their populations reside within the corresponding county seats of Americus, Waycross, Thomasville, and Moultrie. (The Census Bureau did not have the figures for 2009 at the time this study was completed.)

Residents of Americus (Sumter County) endured net change in poverty rate between 2006 and 2008, which was an increase of 24.78 percent. 31 Waycross (Ware County) produced negative 0.96 percent growth in their poverty rate in that time span; Thomasville (Thomas County) attained a decrease of 10 percent in poverty rate from 2006, and the total change in poverty rate for Moultrie (Colquitt County) was a negative 10.67 percent during this same timeframe. 32

Americus (Sumter County) was the only area which produced an increase in their poverty rate, and it is important to note that the increase was a substantial one. This means that a larger number of citizens in Americus (Sumter County) are living in poverty, and the number is growing. The other counties discussed improved their poverty rates, which seems to allude to a local problem causing the increase in Americus (Sumter County) and not only the global recession.

Poverty Rate
Sumter Co. Ware Co. Thomas Co. Colquitt Co.
2003 21% 19% 17% 19.20%
2004 22.30% 19.50% 17.40% 20.10%
2005 27.60% 21.50% 18.90% 23.40%
2006 23% 20.90% 23% 25.30%
2007 25% 20.40% 17.10% 22.20%
2008 28.70% 20.70% 20.70% 22.60%
Poverty Rate Change
Sumter Co. Ware Co. Thomas Co. Colquitt Co.
2003-2005 31.43% 13.16% 11.18% 21.88%
2006-2008 24.78% -0.96% -10% -10.67%

Utilizing this poverty data alone, the conclusion would be that Americus (Sumter County) is suffering from a localized issue which may imply it has not recovered from the tornado and that the city’s poverty rates are gradually worsening. It was expected that the 2007 figures and potentially the 2008 data would be turbulent regarding Americus, but without the 2009 poverty rates, it is hard to formulate a definitive position using this data. Even if the data representing the 2009 poverty rates happened to be favorable for Americus, chances are it would reveal that Americus is in worse condition than the comparison counties due to large differences in poverty rates.

Without the 2009 figures, it seems prudent to review prior data and potential trends from 2003 to 2005. Americus (Sumter County) produced an increase in the poverty rate of 31.43 percent from 2003 to 2005. 33 Waycross (Ware County) endured an increase of 13.16 percent in the same time span; poverty increased by 11.18 percent within Thomasville (Thomas County) and by 21.88 percent in Moultrie (Colquitt County). 34

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The poverty rate within Americus (Sumter County) rose at a higher rate than the other three counties during the 2003 to 2005 time period, and the rate increased more between 2003 and 2005 than any comparison from 2006 to 2008. This data discounts the natural disaster as a major contributor to the rise in poverty rate because the rate was already rising before the tornado hit, and the poverty rate is growing at a much slower pace after the tornado than prior to the disaster. While the poverty rate does not offer a very optimistic view of Americus (Sumter County), the tornado does not seem to be the main cause of the increase in the poverty rate, and Americus seems to be following a trend already set in motion prior to the natural disaster.

Average Annual Pay

The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks, among other things, the average annual pay for individuals in counties across the United States. 35 These statistics display a positive representation of recovery within Americus. Like some of the previous data examined, the figures representing the average annual pay do not include the information regarding 2009.

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Average Annual Pay
Sumter Co. Ware Co. Thomas Co. Colquitt Co.
2003 $26,140 $24,742 $26,818 $23,321
2004 $26,132 $25,296 $28,419 $23,744
2005 $27,257 $26,099 $29,800 $24,496
2006 $27,539 $27,054 $30,118 $24,581
2007 $28,457 $27,992 $32,826 $26,315
2008 $28,778 $29,351 $33,556 $26,245
Change in Average Annual Pay
Sumter Co. Ware Co. Thomas Co. Colquitt Co.
2003-2005 4.27% 5.48% 11.12% 5.04%
2006-2008 4.5% 8.49% 11.42% 6.77%

The citizens of Americus (Sumter County) experienced an increase from 2006 to 2008 of 4.5 percent in average annual pay. 36 The average annual pay in Americus (Sumter County) generated significantly less growth than the other counties which were analyzed. This would seem to provide supporting evidence that Americus (Sumter County) has not fully recovered from the disaster. When one closely examines the numbers for 2005 and 2006, it is noticeable that Americus (Sumter County) generally had smaller rates of growth in average annual pay than the other counties prior to the tornado as well as after.

Americus (Sumter County) displayed a 1.03 percent increase in average annual pay from 2005 to 2006, while all but one county outperformed this modest amount of growth. With that being understood, it doesn’t seem logical to implicate the disaster as the singular cause of the lack of significant gains in the average annual income. Just as the unemployment rate seemed to suggest that pre-existing economic conditions were adversely affecting the economy, the same can be said of the average annual pay. This does not mean that the effects of the tornado do not factor in at all, but, if they do, the effects make a minor contribution.

The figures for the years 2003 to 2005 offer some positive evidence regarding the state of Americus (Sumter County). The average annual pay in Americus (Sumter County) displayed a loss of $8 per person from 2003 to 2004 and an increase of 4.27 percent from 2003 to 2005, but, from the years 2006 to 2008, there was no decrease in average annual pay. 37 From 2003 to 2005, Waycross (Ware County) increased annual pay by 5.48 percent, Thomasville (Thomas County) generated an increase in average annual pay of 11.12 percent and Moultrie (Colquitt County) produced an increase in average annual pay of 5.04 percent. 38

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Americus (Sumter County) was the only area to experience a decrease in average annual pay from 2003 to 2004, but the county has consistently produced increases since then (albeit modest in comparison to the other counties). This would seem to indicate that Americus is doing better than it was before the tornado and may be without many lingering consequences of the disaster. Similar to the information regarding the poverty rates, the data describing the average annual pay lacks the figures for 2009 which may have offered a more decisive conclusion within this section, but it seems logical to theorize that the natural disaster is not the main cause of Americus’ modest growth of average annual pay.

Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax

The special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST, is an increase of the sales tax within a county in order to fund certain local projects. Unfortunately these figures do not seem to provide an obvious conclusion regarding the state of the Americus economy in conjunction with the natural disaster. Not all counties within the United States impose a SPLOST, but all four of the correlating counties within this project do. The change in SPLOST averages can be an invaluable tool to accurately portray the amount consumers are spending within the county. Most of the SPLOST numbers gathered for this study were as of October 2009. Since the amounts for 2006 to 2008 represent complete years and the figures for 2009 do not, the average monthly SPLOST numbers are used to reveal the state of the economy and are presented in the form of the calendar year.

SPLOST (Monthly Average)
Sumter Co. Ware Co. Thomas Co. Colquitt Co.
2006 $347,680 $562,247 N/A $486,074
2007 $372,059 $571,370 $616,932 $462,940
2008 $368,362 $597,674 $612,465 $468,585
2009 $298,846 $519,862 $577,559 $453,499
Change in SPLOST
Sumter Co. Ware Co. Thomas Co. Colquitt Co.
2006-2008 5.95% 6.30% -3.06%
2006-2009 -14.05% -7.45% -6.38% -6.70%

Americus (Sumter County) produced a negative growth of 14.05 percent of SPLOST totals between the years 2006 and 2009. 39 It is interesting to notice that in the year of the disaster, the SPLOST numbers grew 7 percent over the previous year. This can most likely be attributed to spending on storm-related repairs and an influx of people providing assistance to Americus. During the same time period Waycross (Ware County) displayed a decrease of 7.54 percent in SPLOST sums 40 and Moultrie (Colquitt County) produced a decrease in the SPLOST monthly average of 6.7 percent. 41 The SPLOST currently assessed by Thomasville (Thomas County) did not exist in 2006 and, therefore, cannot be included in this analysis. The difference between 2007 and 2009 averages in Thomasville (Thomas County) was a loss of 6.38 percent. 42

The SPLOST numbers for the other counties outperformed Americus (Sumter County) by a sizeable margin. This could possibly provide evidence that Americus has not recovered from the storm, but this seems somewhat unlikely because the change from 2006 to 2008 in Americus (Sumter County) was a gain of 5.95 percent, while Waycross (Ware County) saw growth of 6.3 percent and Moultrie (Colquitt County) experienced a loss of 3.6 percent. If the net change between 2006 and 2009 were to reflect any negative remnants of the natural disaster, then the difference between 2006 and 2008 would exaggerate the signs of a negative impact because the latter time frame was nearer to the date of the tornado. On the contrary, Americus (Sumter County) actually exhibited relatively average numbers which were better than Moultrie (Colquitt County) but worse than Waycross (Ware County).

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This information leads to the hypothesis that the decrease in the 2009 SPLOST totals were mostly unaffected by the consequences of the storm and are, instead, a result of the recession. It is quite feasible that there are residual ramifications of the storm influencing the local economy, but it seems that they are not the primary cause of the 2009 decline in SPLOST sums.

Hotel/Motel Tax

Each of the cities within this study levy what is generally known as the hotel/motel tax, a city-wide tax on individuals renting hotel rooms. This tax can be a useful indicator of a community’s ability to attract tourists – which can in turn boost the economy – and this indicator illustrates substantial growth within Americus.

The hotel/motel tax amounts collected in Americus are based on the city’s fiscal year, which ends in December, but the 2009 figures available for this study end in October. The city of Americus experienced a net increase in hotel/motel tax revenues of 12 percent from 2006 to 2009. 43 (The actual increase may be more than 12 percent, but the totals for the months of November and December of the year 2009 were not available at the time this study was completed.) It is interesting to observe the 2007 tax received total: the amount of growth from 2006 to 2007 is over 43 percent. This is no doubt directly related to the disaster because residents who lost their homes needed temporary housing.

Hotel/Motel Tax Received
Americus Waycross Thomasville Moultrie
2006 $250,000 $245,110 $265,135 $96,352
2007 $357,900 $278,197 $263,842 $94,649
2008 $320,900 $279,153 $242,362 $93,138
2009 $280,000 $250,800 $193,472 $89,644
Change in Hotel/Motel Tax Received
Americus Waycross Thomasville Moultrie
2006-2009 12% 2.32% -20.4% -7.07%

The hotel/motel tax in Waycross is based on a fiscal year ending in June, which means that city’s figures are complete for the full fiscal year. The difference between the hotel/motel tax received for the years 2006 and 2009 in Waycross revealed positive growth of 2.32 percent. 44 The hotel/motel tax in Thomasville was tracked for the calendar year, with figures for 2009 available through October. Thomasville experienced a loss of 20.4 percent in these tax revenues between 2006 and 2009. 45 (The loss would likely not be as great if the November and December 2009 numbers were available for this study.) The hotel/motel tax data for Moultrie (which uses a fiscal year ending on September 30th) is complete and reveals a loss of 7.07 percent from 2006 to 2009. 46

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Americus outperformed all three cities by a sizeable margin in the percentage increase in the hotel/motel tax from 2006 to 2009. This should be a viewed as a positive sign for tourism, the economy, and recovery within Americus.

Business Tax

Most cities collect some sort of business license fee. The name of the tax differs from place to place, and it may be known as Business Tax, Business License Fees, Occupational Tax, etc. Whatever derivative it is known by, it generally serves the same purpose, which is requiring businesses to pay a fee to operate. This is another way to gauge how many businesses are in operation within the city, and how many are closing or opening. Businesses are the lifeline of the economy, which makes this tax or fee a viable indicator of a city’s economic health.

The business license fees in Americus are paid for the city’s fiscal year, which ends in December; this means that the 2009 numbers used in this study are incomplete and current as of October 2009. From 2006 to 2009, business license fees collected in Americus increased 1.02 percent. 47 Although 2009 data is incomplete, it is a troublesome fact that the Business License Fees are down roughly 11 percent from the previous year. Interestingly, during and shortly after the tornado struck, the business license fees collected in Americus increased by relatively large amounts.

Business License Fees Received
Americus Waycross Thomasville Moultrie
2006 $268,000 $786,481 $628,189 $512,000
2007 $289,400 $748,210 $683,577 $619,264
2008 $306,250 $725,497 $675,998 $551,447
2009 $270,730 $751,027 $559,733 $545,039
Change Business License Fees Received
Americus Waycross Thomasville Moultrie
2006-2009 1.02% -4.51% -2.8% 6.45%

The city government of Waycross uses a fiscal year which ends in June, and all of the city’s figures are complete. Business license fees collected in Waycross decreased 4.51 percent from 2006 to 2009. 48 Thomasville’s business license fees are incomplete for 2009 (ending in October for the calendar year) but show that the city of experienced a loss of 2.8 percent in business license fees collected from 2006 to 2009. 49 The city government of Moultrie is based on a fiscal year ending on September 30th, which means that all of its numbers are complete. Moultrie saw an increase of 6.45 percent in business license fees received from 2006 to 2009. 50

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The percentage of difference from 2006 to 2009 within Americus was greater than that of Thomasville and Waycross but less than Moultrie. This seems to suggest that Americus has recovered economically from the storm and the jurisdiction is either doing better than before or has returned to normalcy. One troublesome statistic was the decrease in fees Americus collected in 2009; this decrease can be dismissed in this study as an effect of the economic recession (Thomasville claimed a loss nearly as great as Americus in 2009).

New Home Permits

Another set of criterion to consider in assessing the economic status of Americus (Sumter County) is the number of new homes built. Nearly all counties across the United States require building permits for the construction of new homes. The number of permits issued provides a measure of how much the community is growing and how many individuals potentially possess the means to purchase a new home. This data also seems to hint at recovery with Americus.

The data concerning the number of new home permits issued for Americus (Sumter County) does not include houses which were rebuilt due to the tornado, and the figures presented are based on the calendar year with the exception of 2009 (for which the data is current up to October). Americus (Sumter County) saw a decrease in new home permits of 69.84 percent from 2006 and 2009. 51

New home permits for Waycross (Ware County) are also tracked for the calendar year and are up to date as of October 2009. It must be stated that the 2009 number is somewhat inflated due to the fact that forty-nine of those homes are from a single development. 52 The change from 2006 to 2009 in Waycross is an increase of 12.16 percent when including this development; when it is not included, the net change is a decrease of 53.05 percent. 53

New Home Permits Issued
Sumter Co. Ware Co. Thomas Co. Colquitt Co.
2006 63 74 279 45
2007 46 53 200 92
2008 25 41 109 132
2009 19 83 (34) 63 111
Change in New Home Permits Issued
Sumter Co. Ware Co. Thomas Co. Colquitt Co.
2006-2009 -69.84% 12.16% (-53.05%) -77.42% 147%

The data for Thomasville (Thomas County), although presented in calendar year form, is up to date as of October 2009. Thomasville (Thomas County) experienced a decrease of 77.42 percent in new home permits issued from 2006 to 2009. 54 The figures for Moultrie (Colquitt County) are current through December 31, 2009 and show a 147 percent increase in new home permits issued from 2006 to 2009. 55

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The data for Americus is alarming, but so are the numbers for Waycross and Thomasville. Americus experienced a less dramatic decrease than Thomasville and a reasonably comparable rate of reduction as compared to Waycross (when not including the new development in Waycross’ rate of change). Moultrie was the only area to consistently improve with the exception of a decrease in 2009. Given that Americus experienced trends similar to those experienced by Waycross and Thomasville, it seems the decrease in the production of new homes is mainly due to the poor economy and not the disaster.

Food Stamp Funds

The Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) maintains records which can be directly linked to the state of the economy, including documentation regarding food stamps and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF). Both of these indictors offer great promise of recovery and betterment within Americus. While neither of these figures necessarily offers concrete evidence concerning the status of the economy as a whole, they do contribute clues as to what trend the economy is following. (All records stated from the Department of Family and Children Services are based on the state fiscal year which is July 1, 2005 to June 30, 2006 for fiscal year 2006, July 1 2006 to June 30, 2007 for fiscal year 2007, and July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2008 for fiscal year 2008. Information regarding fiscal year 2009 was not available at the time this study was completed. )

Annual Food Stamp Funds Distributed
Sumter Co. Ware Co. Thomas Co. Colquitt Co.
2006 $8,867,078 $6,098,011 $6,530,385 $7,217,276
2007 $9,432,414 $5,846,579 $6,456,794 $6,971,842
2008 $9,928,383 $6,266,149 $6,736,639 $8,089,296
Change in Annual Food Stamp Funds Distributed
Sumter Co. Ware Co. Thomas Co. Colquitt Co.
2006-2008 12% 2.76% 3.16% 12.08%

Food stamp funds distributed in Americus (Sumter County) increased 12 percent between fiscal years 2006 to 2008. 56 The sum of food stamp funds administered in Waycross (Ware County), from fiscal years 2006 and 2008, rose by 2.76 percent, 57 while Thomasville (Thomas County) experienced an increase of 3.16 percent, 58 and Moultrie (Colquitt County) saw an increase of 12.08 percent. 59

Americus (Sumter County) was the only area which increased the amount of food stamp funds from 2006 to 2007, and this can clearly be attributed to the storm. The total quantity of food stamp funds in Americus (Sumter County) was consistently higher than any of the control group cities each year, but the percentage increase from 2006 to 2008 was actually less than that of one of the counties Americus (Sumter County) was compared to.

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There may be lingering effects from the natural disaster, but Americus (Sumter County) is increasing on pace with one of the similar communities. These inflated numbers lead to the conclusion that the Americus region had economic woes prior to the tornado; the disaster is most likely not a major contributor to the current increase in food stamps funds because of the similarities of the rates of increase shared between Americus (Sumter County) and Moultrie (Colquitt County).

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF) provides funds to less fortunate families with dependent children, and it potentially illustrates positive growth within Americus. TANF funds distributed in Americus (Sumter County) show a 50.13 percent decrease from 2006 to 2008. 60 During this same period, TANF funds dispersed increased 2.25 percent in Waycross (Ware County), 61 decreased by 36.3 percent in Thomasville (Thomas County), 62 and decreased by 31.33 percent in Moultrie (Colquitt County). 63

Total TANF Funds Distributed
Sumter Co. Ware Co. Thomas Co. Colquitt Co.
2006 $967,490 $469,528 $451,764 $529,323
2007 $595,987 $387,076 $323,928 $373,222
2008 $482,534 $480,076 $287,386 $363,503
Total TANF Funds Distributed
Sumter Co. Ware Co. Thomas Co. Colquitt Co.
2006-2008 -50.13% 2.25% -36.39% -31.33%
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Americus (Sumter County) disbursed a larger amount of funds in 2006 than any of the control areas, and this, once again, seems to allude to a previous economic problem. However, Americus (Sumter County) experienced a much more impressive decrease from 2006 to 2008 than any other county within this study. This would suggest that the tornado had little effect on TANF, and, judging by the figures, Americus is progressing more quickly than its counterparts in decreasing the amount of TANF funds distributed.

College Enrollment

College enrollment, from 2006 to 2009, was the last major indicator examined for gauging the pulse of the economy and community. This set of data provides a superlative outlook for the current and future state of Americus. The city of Americus has one university and one college: Georgia Southwestern State University (GSSU) and South Georgia Technical College (SGTC-Americus). GSSU increased its enrollment by 18.15 percent between 2006 and 2009, and only lost 2.1 percent in 2007 (the year of the tornado). 64 The enrollment of SGTC-Americus surged from 2006 to 2009 by 24.54 percent, and SGTC-Americus experienced an increase in 2007 as well. 65

Waycross, Georgia has two colleges within the city: Waycross College (WC) and Okefenokee Technical College (OTC). WC displayed a positive net change in enrollment from 2006 to 2009 of 5.8 percent, and OTC actually experienced an 11.11 percent decrease in enrollment during the same time span. 66 Thomasville has one university and one college as well: Thomas University (TU) and Southwest Georgia Technical College (SGTC-Thomasville). The enrollment of TU soared from 2006 to 2009 by 37.25 percent and SGTC-Thomasville displayed a slight decline in enrollment of 0.94 percent within the same time frame. 67 Moultrie has only one college: Moultrie Technical College (MTC), which displayed positive growth of 3.85 percent between 2006 and 2009. 68

College Enrollment
Americus Waycross Thomasville Moultrie
GSSU SGTC WC OTC TU SGTC MTC
2006 2,457 2,857 1,018 1,314 690 1,175 3,688
2007 2,405 3,013 989 1,118 753 1,071 3,587
2008 2,717 3,222 936 1,150 899 1,028 3,646
2009 2,903 3,558 1,077 1,168 947 1,164 3,830
Change in College Enrollment
Americus Waycross Thomasville Moultrie
GSSU SGTC WC OTC TU SGTC MTC
2006-2009 18.15% 24.54% 5.8% -11.11% 37.25% -0.94% 3.85%

The negative growth of GSSU in Americus in 2007 should not be viewed as an effect of the tornado because four other schools within this study also claimed a negative growth rate in 2007. Both the college and university in Americus grew at a faster rate than any other institution within this study, with the exception of TU in Thomasville. This increase in enrollment should discredit the claim that students will not attend a college in a community without a permanent and fully operational hospital (as was the case in Americus from 2007 to early 2008). However, SGTC-Americus President Sparky Reeves disagrees claiming, that not having a permanent hospital “would have a long term negative impact.” 69 He based his conclusion on the school’s reliance on the hospital for certain clinics and the need for the hospital in maintaining the college’s nursing program.

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The increase of enrollment from 2006 to 2009 presents strong evidence that Americus is attracting people to the community. The more students there are at a college, the more spending there will be in the community. The more students there are at a college, the more jobs will need to be filled at a college or a university. This is indirect evidence which is positive for the economy and recovery of the community.

Negative Economic Influences

Some of the factors influencing the economic status of the city of Americus may seem to place more blame on the disaster than what is actually appropriate and exaggerate the apparent economic condition of Americus. These factors – which seem to skew the economic figures negatively – need to be described in detail.

As if an omen of worse things to come, Collins & Aikman Corp., one of the largest employers within the Americus region, went out of business and closed permanently the morning before the tornado. 70 A sudden increase in the number of unemployed individuals may have inflated certain economic figures to a certain extent, adding to the rise in unemployment, possibly causing lesser amounts to be contributed to the SPLOST fund, increasing the poverty rate, and potentially increasing the number of food stamp recipients.

Many credit the tornado for the loss of employment at Sumter Regional Hospital, the third largest employer in Americus at that time, but the tornado may not be completely to blame for this loss. 71 At the time of the tornado, the hospital was overstaffed, and layoffs were a necessity. 72 The hospital employed roughly 600 people in 2006; currently, it employs approximately 375 with no plans to add more employees in the near future. 73 (Once the new hospital opens there is a potential need for up to 50 more employees.) 74 Given an overstaffed hospital that may have been planning lay-offs, it is difficult to implicate the tornado alone as the cause of the reduction in Sumter Regional Hospital’s workforce. The inevitable layoffs did come to fruition and were hastened due to tornado damage. This may have distorted some of the figures from 2007, and possibly 2008 and 2009, as did the closing of Collins & Aikman Corp.

Immediate Economic Benefits of the Tornado

The year of 2007, when the tornado struck, did not see only negative results in every niche within the community of Americus. There were some constructive outcomes which benefited the local society. The SPLOST fund grew at an unprecedented rate. From 2006 to 2007, SPLOST funds received by Americus increased by 7.01 percent, which is the highest growth rate of any city during any year within this study. The most plausible explanation for this surge is an unfortunate one. The rise in SPLOST funds was likely the result of higher sales due to reconstruction and increased transactions from of an influx of nonresidents offering aid to Americus.

The hotel/motel tax collected in Americus is another indicator offering optimistic 2007 figures: from 2006 to 2007 monies received from this tax grew by 47.16 percent. This is the largest boost of any city during any year within this study. It is tragic that one reason for the sudden rise in hotel/motel taxes received was the increase of residents made homeless by the disaster. The rise in both the SPLOST and hotel/motel tax was directly related to the natural disaster and can be viewed as a representation of a suffering community, but the swift injection of tax dollars to aid an ailing city is a positive consequence with a horrific origin. While this increase in tax revenue was not enough to allow Americus an immediate or expeditious recovery, it still provided vital support for a debilitated region.

Economic Conclusion

It is difficult to assign singular importance to any one set of economic clues; it seems logical to perceive individual indicators as roughly equal, with each offering a different aspect for assessing the economic impact of the tornado. The data regarding the SPLOST funds is not positive for Americus, which has experienced a decrease in funds worse than any of the other cities described. It should be noted, however, that this decrease seems to be solely related to the recession – the rate of change from 2006 to 2007, and 2006 to 2008, revealed an average to excellent rate of change in Americas as compared to the other three cities. The 2009 figures are what influence the substantial negative net change and do not implicate the tornado as the cause.

The rate of change in population, poverty rate, and average annual pay in Americus offers a bleak view because these rates were outperformed by all three of the comparable cities. However, the negative changes in these numbers should not be attributed to the tornado because Americus’ population, poverty rate, and average annual pay are trending similarly or better than before the disaster. While these rates of change are worse than in the other cities, the rates of change do offer a relatively positive outlook because these indicators are generally worsening at a similar or slower pace than before the tornado. The poor production alludes to a prior localized economic problem within the Americus region.

New home permits issued and food stamp funds administered within Americus trended similarly or better than one of the cities to which Americus was compared. Outperforming only one of the three cities should not necessarily be viewed as a negative indicator; if Americus had not recovered from the storm it would be performing worse than all of the comparison cities in these areas (those cities have only had to contend with a recession and Americus had to contend with a recession and a natural disaster). Again, the increase in food stamp funds implies a preexisting problem within Americus.

Business license fees collected and the unemployment rate progressed or regressed more favorably in Americus than in two of the three cities; this should be viewed positively with regards to recovery. However, like many of the other indicators, the unemployment rate hinted at a sizeable localized issue which predated the tornado.

Americus outperformed all three of the comparable cities in TANF funds distributed, hotel/motel tax received, and college enrollment. This performance indicates Americus is recovering and, perhaps, becoming better than before the disaster.

Most of the indicators which were analyzed seem to support the concept that Americus is either on the path to full recovery or has already recovered. While most indicators offered positive views, a minority of the figures examined – more cryptic and enigmatic – do not seem to suggest much of anything regarding the recovery of Americus. The overall view of the economy in Americus is suggestive of a productive and positive economy which is well on its way to recovery or has already recovered, but it should be recognized that some of the indicators suggest an economic problem already existing prior to the natural disaster.

OTHER MEASURES OF RECOVERY

Not all indicators of Americus’ recovery are based on economic data. There are multiple variables and instances which should be expanded upon to better understand how Americus is recovering and whether or not it is in relatively better shape following the natural disaster.

Redevelopment and New Construction

It is hard to attribute any good consequence to a tornado that claimed two innocent lives, destroyed scores of homes, flattened a multitude of businesses, and wrought havoc on a community, but many of the outcomes have, in fact, been positive. Whole strips of deteriorated and outdated buildings were destroyed by the tornado. 75 Prior to the storm, there was not enough money or motivation to redevelop this land. Redevelopment became a viable option when many of these buildings were destroyed by the tornado. Modern construction, which can better serve the community, has replaced old and decaying buildings. 76

Sumter Regional Hospital, the only hospital in Americus, had been added onto piecemeal since 1908. It was not known for being technologically advanced, nor was the money available for modernization. The tornado completely destroyed the hospital, and, due to the efforts of and grants by FEMA, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA), insurance proceeds, and a large investment by the Phoebe Putney Health System (which now owns Sumter Regional Hospital), the new hospital will be the most technologically advanced hospital in the Southwest Georgia region. It is being built specifically to meet the current and future needs of the community. 77

The devastation caused by the tornado provided the opportunity for numerous improvements, and it seems to have prompted individuals in leadership roles to perform already identified and necessary actions, such as reducing the number of employees at Sumter Regional Hospital and selling the hospital in order to allow it to become more viable. There are many more instances of Americus benefiting from the combination of insurance proceeds and FEMA and GEMA grants which allowed for the updating and modernizing of public and private facilities within Americus.

Large businesses with an abundance of patrons will be interconnected within the local economy. The obvious form of interconnectedness is the employment of a myriad of personnel, and many of the employees are residents of the community where the businesses are located. Beyond these mundane and apparent connections, other companies seek to improve their sales by opening in a location which already attracts large numbers of people. Thus was the case with Sumter Regional Hospital. Many independently operated businesses are partially or fully dependent upon the hospital; some examples of these are florists and pharmacies. 78 Businesses like these located near the hospital to take advantage of the sheer volume of customers and employees the hospital cared for and employed. When the hospital was destroyed, many of these companies were placed in peril due to the lack of sales. Some of these businesses managed to remain operating but were forced to perform layoffs. 79

Once the new hospital, owned and operated by Phoebe, is constructed and opens, the direct opposite should occur. The businesses which were forced to close or lay employees off will once again return in full force and thrive. This will create new jobs, new opportunities, and new businesses. There is no logical reason to believe that the kinds of companies that were once interwoven with the fate of the former hospital will not return and flourish as much, if not more, as before. The opening of the new medical center is a highly anticipated moment within the community of Americus because it will undoubtedly improve the city and create jobs, but it is also a tangible symbol of normalcy built of brick and mortar.

In addition to a new hospital, Americus (Sumter County) acquired a new community center due to the natural disaster. FEMA constructed a disaster recovery center in Sumter County in response to the tornado, and the facility was designed to cater to the needs of the locals to apply for assistance and low-interest loans, meet with FEMA representatives, and obtain information regarding recovery and aid. The disaster recovery center was a 36,000 square foot facility which was eventually sold to the Sumter County government. The structure was refitted and redesigned, and it became the Columns at Boone Park Community Center, which will continue to serve the community with its basketball courts, swimming pool, playground, picnic shelter, and softball field, among many other amenities. 80 The Sumter County Parks and Recreation Department operates several other community centers, but this was a modern and sizeable addition to the city’s repertoire of facilities that would not exist if the city had not been struck by a devastating tornado.

Expansion of Services

The tornado exposed several shortcomings and weaknesses regarding government-owned infrastructure within Americus. After the disaster, county and city officials became aware of the fact that they did not possess a sufficient number of firefighters and fire stations. It was blatantly clear during and following the tornado that more emergency workers were needed to cover the large geographic area with enough assets to respond to any plausible incident, and officials responded to this need. A new fire station was built and more firefighters were employed, and this decision was directly prompted by the natural disaster. 81 Unlike the situation prior to the storm, there are fewer to no gaps currently in fire fighting and emergency service coverage within Sumter County. Another deficiency which was revealed by the natural disaster was the small collection of outdated road equipment, such as dump trucks, owned by the Sumter County government. The large post-disaster reconstruction effort was hindered by the antiquated equipment. This motivated county officials to invest in modern road equipment which will serve the community well into the future. 82

Hazard Mitigation Projects

In addition to the economic data, redevelopment, and the expansion of services, different hazard mitigation projects also highlight how the community is better and safer. Prior to the tornado, Sumter County had only one antiquated warning siren to serve the entire county, and it had been constructed within the heart of Americus. 83 This siren was not activated to warn residents of the impending tornado; it was thought there was no time to warn citizens and the alarm might not have even been heard outside of the immediate reach of the siren. 84

Regardless of whether the siren should have been activated, it became obvious that Sumter County needed a technologically advanced county-wide system of warning sirens. Purchased through state and federal hazard mitigation grants, eighteen outdoor warning sirens (which should become operational in 2011) will be constructed throughout Sumter County, and each will have range of up to two-miles. In addition to the sirens, two safe rooms, which provide shelter for locals during a tornado, will be constructed. These safe rooms, which will be finalized in 2012, are being built near local government buildings, and they can withstand wind speeds up to 200 miles per hour. Hazard mitigation grants also allowed for the purchase and distribution of 450 weather radios throughout Sumter County. 85

QUOTES AND OPINIONS OF RESIDENTS

It is well known in Americus what immediate damage the tornado caused. It is also widely understood in Americus that the effects of the tornado were the cause of much of the community’s apprehension and trepidation. What is unclear within this region is how much, if any, of the effects of the natural disaster still negatively influence Americus and whether the aftermath of the tornado is the primary cause, or even a contributor, of the depressed economic state of Americus.

Some quotes from citizens offer insight as to what exactly happened, how residents responded, where the community is heading, and how much the tornado is to credit or to blame. Michael Sudduth of the Sumter County Code Enforcement is well aware of the physical damage the storm inflicted upon the community; his office handles the county-wide administration of building permits. He made a positive claim regarding the rebuilding of Americus when he said, “When people build back, they build back bigger.” 86 His claim promotes the concept that residents were bettering their living situations, and when homes are destroyed or damaged people generally rebuild, and the reconstruction is larger than before. Despite the negative impact of the natural disaster, it seems that the reconstruction process allowed citizens to rebuild in a manner which was bigger and better than before.

Angela Westra, President of the Americus-Sumter County Chamber of Commerce, is fully cognizant of the broad impact of the disaster on the community, but is not certain of what can be rightfully attributed to the tornado. As she states, “People like to blame the tornado for a lot of things,” 87 implying many people in Americus fault the storm for the current woes when there are many other forces and variables which have influenced the state of Americus. She was adamant that the community is resilient, and it has and will persevere.

When speaking with Captain Phillip Daniel of the Sumter County Sheriff’s Department, he was asked when Americus will recover and become a better community than it was before the tornado. He responded, “When the hospital is built.” 88 Sumter County Commissioner Randy Howard agreed with this statement, but he also expanded on it to say that in the medium to long term, the tornado has provided the community of Americus with great opportunities which it would not have had otherwise. He believes that the consequences of the natural disaster have made Americus a better community in many ways. He understands what immediate devastation it caused and would never wish this upon any area, but the good the tornado produced and the opportunities provided to Americus are undeniable and prevalent. 89 When discussing the hospital alone, Marcus Johnson, Director of Marketing for Sumter Regional Hospital, was under the impression that Americus is gaining a better hospital, which will be a more technologically-advanced facility, greatly benefiting the community. 90

In aggregate, these interviews yielded some surprising insights. Some individuals seemed to believe that the natural disaster has become a scapegoat for social and economic problems within their community. Others even believe that the tornado was a blessing in disguise which allowed for growth and cleared the path to a brighter future for Americus. Throughout the interviews, which ranged from government officials to individuals passing on the street, there were conflicting opinions on mundane issues, but nearly all of the interviewees agreed on a few points: Americus is a proud and tightly knit community with an optimistic citizenry determined to move forward and progress.

CONCLUSION

It has long been disputed among emergency management professionals whether a community is better off structurally and economically before or after a natural disaster. The intention of this in-depth analysis of Americus, Georgia was to formulate a case study to provide credible justification for one view-point or the other. As stated earlier, it is difficult to obtain a discernable, unambiguous, and undeniable yes or no answer. Thus was the case in studying Americus, but there is enough evidence to provide a claim supported by data. What cannot be quantified or compared within this impact study is the loss of human life or the pain and suffering endured, but what can be weighed is what Americus structurally had prior to and following the disaster and its economic status before the storm and after it.

It is true that Americus withstood hardships on a dual front from the tornado and the recession. While the city may not have recovered completely unscathed, Americus does seem to be on the right track. The majority of the emphasis should not be placed solely on economic data because the economy is merely one component used to measure recovery and betterment. New infrastructure, redevelopment, the economy, and opinions from locals should be equally considered in determining the state of Americus, because each indicator provides a different aspect on the condition and health of Americus.

Most of the opinions of the locals promote the belief that, while Americus may not be better off yet, they are nearly fully recovered and the city will be better off once the hospital is completed. The information regarding the new hospital is supportive of this as well because the new facility will be an improvement upon the previous hospital, and, once it opens, more jobs will be created. Americus gained a large structure from FEMA, and the quality and use of this structure, which is now serving the community, is unprecedented in Americus. Americus is also acquiring a county-wide warning siren system which will be unparalleled by any system the city/county had previously owned. The tornado also prompted leadership to perform much needed actions such as adding another fire station and updating antiquated road equipment. The natural disaster was the unfortunate cause of the demolition of many buildings, but this allowed for the redevelopment and updating of a vast number of businesses and homes which were in dire need of reconstruction and modernization. The economy as a whole also seems to be progressing or regressing more favorably than the economies of the comparison cities used in this study – with a few exceptions – and Americus seemed, many times, to be progressing or regressing more favorably than it was trending prior to the tornado.

The aggregate of all the data, information, quotes, and opinions promotes the notion that Americus is well on the way to recovery or may have already recovered. Once the hospital is completed, Americus will be in an undeniably more advantageous position than it was prior to the tornado. With the exception of the completion of the hospital, warning sirens, and safe rooms, everything else seems to promote the concept of full recovery and Americus becoming a better and more resilient community than before the disaster. The construction of the hospital and hazard mitigation projects is just the final piece which will complete the recovery of Americus and will propel the community into the future as a city greatly improved since 2007.

Next Steps

In order to obtain a general consensus on whether or not communities are better off before or after a disaster, more case studies must be conducted. Future studies regarding this genre should examine the effects of a broad spectrum of disasters with varying scopes of intensity. The study of communities should focus on a large range of populations, different geographical locations, and diverse economies. In addition to these variables, future studies should analyze instances of disasters in a multitude of communities which received a wide-range of state and federal grants. Once a broad spectrum of case studies is conducted, analyzed, and compared, a consensus may be formed which could provide an all encompassing answer to the question at hand regarding all communities and all disasters.

Marc Hyden graduated from Georgia State University in 2007 and earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. Since then he has served as the Georgia senate president pro tempore’s legislative aide. He is currently working with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and the Georgia Office of Homeland Security through Governor Sonny Perdue’s Fellowship program. Mr. Hyden may be contacted at Marc.Hyden@yahoo.com.

Charley English began his career with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) in 1996. Governor Sonny Perdue appointed him director of GEMA in 2006 and as the state’s homeland security director in 2007. In 2011 Charley English was reappointed to both positions by Governor Nathan Deal. He earned his associate’s degree in criminal justice from Clayton Junior College, his bachelor's degree in public and urban affairs from Georgia State University, and his master's degree in homeland security and defense from the Naval Postgraduate School, where he was awarded the Professor Phillip Zimbardo Award for academic achievement. Director English may be contacted at CharleyEnglish@yahoo.com.

Appendix A: CONTROL GROUP

The communities of Waycross, Thomasville, and Moultrie, were selected as comparison communities due to the large number of similarities they share with Americus (Sumter County). First, the three cities, like Americus, all have at least one major hospital and at least one college or university within the city, and all of these cities are located in the southern half of Georgia. These municipalities all have similar populations ranging from roughly 15,000 to 19,000. 91 They all had comparable poverty rates, average annual pay, and unemployment rates prior to the natural disaster. 92 All of these towns are somewhat isolated as they are all at least thirty miles away from a city with a population of at least 50,000, and the economies are considerably solitary because between 77.1 percent and 86.2 percent of the working populace living within the corresponding counties are employed within the boundaries of the county. 93

These economies also offer similarities due to comparable workforce percentages, and even the education levels within these communities are alike. Within the respective counties, between 31.3 and 34.3 percent of the residents obtained a high school diploma or a GED, and between 5.3 and 7.9 percent of the citizens attained a bachelor’s degree or higher. 94 The general demographics of these counties are also similar. Between 71.6 and 73.7 percent of the population was age eighteen or older, and from 13.7 to 19.5 percent of the residents were sixty-five years of age or older. 95 Between 44.3 to 49.1 percent of the counties’ citizenry were composed of males and 50.9 to 55.7 percent were female. 96 Obviously, no two cities are carbon copies of each other because each community and each economy is unique. Of course there are variables, dynamics, and diversities which may reveal subtle differences between these cities, but for the purposes of this study, these are the most similar cities to Americus within the state of Georgia.

Population by Occupation by Percent as of the year 2000
(Georgia Department of Labor)
Americus Waycross Thomasville Moultrie
Management, Business & Financial Workers 8 7.5 10.7 9.1
Science, Engineering & Computer Professionals 1.7 0.9 1.1 0.8
Healthcare Practitioner Professionals 3.3 2.5 4.1 1.8
Other Professional Workers 11.7 10.2 9.7 8.4
Technicians 2.4 1.8 3.8 1.9
Sales Workers 8.9 11.7 10.2 10
Administrative Support Workers 14.2 14.2 14.3 12.9
Construction & Extractive Craft Workers 4.9 5.7 4.2 6.5
Installation/Maintenance/Repair Craft Workers 4.5 6.7 5.1 6.6
Production Operative Workers 11.5 9.5 10.2 14.1
Transportation/Material Moving Operative Workers 5.9 5.6 4.9 5.3
Laborers and Helpers 6.2 6.5 5.8 10.7
Protective Service Workers 2.6 2.9 2.1 1.4
Service Workers, except Protective 12.7 13.1 12.6 9.6
No Civilian Work Experience Since 1995 1.5 1.4 1.3 0.9
Education and Commuting Patterns
(Georgia Department of Labor)
Sumter Co. Ware Co. Thomas Co. Colquitt Co.
Percent of working residents working within 83.4 81.3 86.2 77.1
the county
Percent with a high school diploma or GED 31.3 33.9 33 34.3
Percent with a 4 year college degree 7.9 5.3 7.3 7.2
City Demographics as of the year 2000 Census
(Georgia Department of Labor A-D)
Americus Waycross Thomasville Moultrie
Percent 18 years old or older 72 73.7 73.1 71.6
Percent 65 years old or older 13.7 19.5 16.2 16
Percent Male 44.3 45.6 49.1 46.6
Percent Female 55.7 54.4 50.9 53.4

  1. Business Civic Leadership Center, What a Successful Disaster Recovery Looks Like (The United States Chamber of Commerce, 2009). http://bclc.uschamber.com/sites/default/files/programs/files/WhatDoesaSuccessfulRecoveryLookLike.pdf
  2. John Handmer and Marnie Hillman, “Economic and Financial Recovery from Disaster,” Australian Journal of Emergency Management 19, no. 4 (November 2004): 44-50. http://www.ema.gov.au/www/emaweb/rwpattach.nsf/VAP/(3273BD3F76A7A5DEDAE36942A54D7D90)~EconomicAndFinancial.pdf/$file/EconomicAndFinancial.pdf.
  3. Jesus C. Cuaresma, Jaroslava Hlouskova, and Michael Obersteiner, “Natural Disasters as Creative Destruction: Evidence from Developing Countries,” Economic Inquiry 46, no. 2 (2008): 214-226; Jennifer Emert, “Tornadoes Cause Most Insured Damage in GA History,” WALB News 10, March 16, 2007, http://www.walb.com/global/Story.asp?s=6238926.
  4. Thomas Fomby, Yuki Ikeda, and Norman Loayza, “The Growth Aftermath of Natural Disasters,” Policy Research Working Paper WPS5002 (The World Bank Development Research Group & Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, July 2009): 1-55, http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/WDSContentServer/WDSP/IB/2009/07/17/000158349_20090717145342/Rendered/PDF/WPS5002.pdf
  5. Mark Skidmore and Hideki Toya, “Do Natural Disasters Promote Long-Run Growth?” Economic Inquiry 40, no. 4 (2002): 664-687.
  6. Norman Loayza, Eduardo Olaberra, Jamele Rigolini, and Luc Christiansen, "Natural Disasters and Medium-Term Economic Growth: The Contrasting Effects of Different Events on Disaggregated Output" World Bank-UN Assessment on the Economics of Disaster Risk Reduction (April 2009), http://www.sais-jhu.edu/bin/y/r/Natural%20Disasters%20and%20Medium%20Term%20Growth%20APR%2023%202009.pdf.
  7. Stefan Hochrainer, “Assessing the Macroeconomic Impacts of Natural Disasters. Are there Any?” Policy Research Working Paper WPS4968 (The World Bank, Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery Unit, June 2009): 1-55. http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/WDSContentServer/IW3P/IB/2009/06/18/000158349_20090618131707/Rendered/PDF/WPS4968.pdf.
  8. Eduardo Cavallo, Ilan Noy, Sebastian Galiani, and Jaun Pantano, “Natural Disasters and Economic Growth.” (Santa Clara University Department of Economics, 2009); http://www.scu.edu/business/economics/upload/Noy.pdf.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Tobias N. Rasmussen, “Macroeconomic Implications of Natural Disasters in the Caribbean,” IMF Working Paper WP/04/224 (International Monetary Fund, December 2004): 1-24. http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/wp/2004/wp04224.pdf.
  11. National Weather Service, “Preliminary Damage Report for 1 March 2007 Tornado Outbreak” (National Weather Service, March 2007), http://www.srh.noaa.gov/data/warn_archive/FFC/PNS/0306_184731.txt.
  12. National Weather Service, “2007 Tornado Fatality Information” (National Weather Service, 2007), http://www.spc.noaa.gov/climo/torn/2007deadlytorn.html.
  13. Genie Collins, “President Describes Damage as ‘tough devastation’,"Americus Times-Recorder, March 4, 2007, http://www.americustimesrecorder.com/local/local_story_063013318.html; FEMA, “Georgia Severe Storms and Tornadoes” (Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2009), http://www.fema.gov/news/event.fema?id=7646.
  14. Dawn Hobby, “Sumter Hospital Shows Tornado’s Worst Punch,” WALB News 10, March 2, 2007, http://www.walb.com/Global/story.asp?S=6168189.
  15. Beverly Butcher (GIS Information Officer of Americus Georgia), interview with the author, November 17, 2009.
  16. Randy Howard (Sumter County Commissioner), interview with the author, November 17, 2009.
  17. Angi Ford (Director of Public Assistance for Georgia Emergency Management Agency), interview with the author, November 5, 2009; Emert, “Tornadoes Cause most Insured Damage in GA History.”
  18. Marcus Johnson (Director of Marketing for Sumter Regional Hospital), interview with the author, November 17, 2009.
  19. United States Census Bureau, Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas (United States Census Bureau, 2009), http://www.census.gov/population/www/metroareas/metroarea.html.
  20. Angi Ford, interview with the author.
  21. United States Census Bureau, Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places in Georgia, Listed Alphabetically: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2008 (United States Census Bureau, 2009). http://www.census.gov/popest/cities/tables/SUB-EST2008-04-13.xls
  22. Ibid.
  23. Sperling’s Best Places, Americus, Georgia (Sperling’s Best Places, 2009) http://www.bestplaces.net/city/Americus-Georgia.aspx.
  24. U.S. Census Bureau, Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places in Georgia.
  25. Ibid.
  26. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Local Area Unemployment Statistics (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2009), http://www.bls.gov/lau/home.htm.
  27. Ibid.
  28. Ibid.
  29. United States Census Bureau, Definitions (United States Census Bureau, 2009), http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/methods/definitions.html.
  30. United States Census Bureau, How the Census Bureau Measures Poverty (United States Census Bureau, 2009), http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/about/overview/measure.html.
  31. United States Census Bureau, Small Area Income and Poverty Rates (United States Census Bureau, 2009), http://www.census.gov/did/www/saipe/county.html
  32. Ibid.
  33. Ibid.
  34. Ibid.
  35. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2009) http://www.bls.gov/cew/
  36. Ibid.
  37. Ibid.
  38. Ibid.
  39. Rayetta Floyd (County Clerk for Sumter County Board of Commissioners), interview with the author, November 17, 2009.
  40. Pam Gibson (County Clerk for Ware County Board of Commissioners), interview with the author, November 19, 2009.
  41. Bryan Shuler (County Administrator for Colquitt County), interview with the author, December 11, 2009.
  42. Laura Nichols (Finance Manager for Thomas County Board of Commissioners), interview with the author, December 11, 2009.
  43. Charlotte Cotton (Americus City Administrator), interview with the author, November 16, 2009.
  44. Julie Dinkins (City Clerk for the city of Waycross), interview with the author, November 20, 2009.
  45. Susan Wyrick (Tax Coordinator for the city of Thomasville), interview with the author, November 20, 2009.
  46. Gary McDaniel (Director of Accounts Receivable for the city of Moultrie), interview with the author, December 11, 2009.
  47. Charlotte Cotton, interview with author.
  48. Julie Dinkins, interview with the author.
  49. Susan Wyrick, interview with the author.
  50. Gary McDaniel, interview with the author.
  51. Michael Sudduth (Code Enforcement Officer for Sumter County), interview with the author, November 16, 2009.
  52. Martha Wakefield (Director of Ware County Planning and Codes Department), interview with the author, November 20, 2009.
  53. Ibid.
  54. Donna Shie (Administrative Clerk for Thomas County Building Inspection), interview with the author, December 11, 2009.
  55. Renee Hawkins (Administrative Specialist for Colquitt County Building Inspection), interview with the author, December 11, 2009.
  56. Sumter County DFCS, Annual Report Fiscal Year 2006 (Sumter County Department of Family and Children Services, 2007); Sumter County DFCS, Annual Report Americus, Georgia July 1, 2006 – June 30 2007 (Sumter County Department of Family and Children Services, 2008); Sumter County DFCS, Annual Report Americus, Georgia July 1, 2007 – June 30 2008 (Sumter County Department of Family and Children Services, 2009).
  57. Ware County DFCS, Annual Report July 1, 2005 – June 30, 2006 (Waycross, GA: Ware County Department of Family and Children Services, 2007); Ware County DFCS, Annual Report July 1, 2006 – June 30, 2007 (Waycross, GA: Ware County Department of Family and Children Services, 2008); Ware County DFCS, Annual Report July 1, 2007 – June 30, 2008 (Waycross, GA: Ware County Department of Family and Children Services, 2009).
  58. Thomas County DFCS, Annual Report Fiscal Year July 1, 2005 – June 30, 2006 (Thomas County Department of Family and Children Services, 2007); Thomas County DFCS, Annual Report Fiscal Year July 1, 2006 – June 30, 2007 (Thomas County Department of Family and Children Services, 2008); Thomas County DFCS, Annual Report Fiscal Year July 1, 2007 – June 30, 2008 (Thomas County Department of Family and Children Services, 2009).
  59. Colquitt County DFCS, Annual Report State Fiscal Year 2006 (Colquitt County Department of Family and Children Services, 2007); Colquitt County DFCS, Annual Report State Fiscal Year 2007 (Colquitt County Department of Family and Children Services, 2008); Colquitt County DFCS, Annual Report State Fiscal Year 2008 (Colquitt County Department of Family and Children Services, 2009).
  60. Sumter county DFCS, Annual Reports.
  61. Ware County DFCS, Annual Reports.
  62. Thomas County DFCS, Annual Reports.
  63. Colquitt County DFCS, Annual Reports.
  64. Board of Regents, Office of Research and Policy Analysis, Ten Year Enrollment Report 1999-2008. (Atlanta, GA: University System of Georgia, January 15, 2009), http://www.usg.edu/research/students/enroll/10yr/rpt99-08.pdf; Board of Regents, Office of Research and Policy Analysis, Semester Enrollment Report Fall 2009 (Atlanta, GA: University System of Georgia, January 29, 2010), http://www.usg.edu/research/students/enroll/fy2010/fall09.pdf .
  65. Sparky Reeves (President of South Georgia Technical College), interview with the author, November 17, 2009.
  66. Charles Gibson (Director of Career Services for Okefenokee Technical College), interview with the author, November 18, 2009; Board of Regents, Ten Year Enrollment Report and Semester Enrollment Report.
  67. Charles Gibson, interview with author; Kellie Blackwell (Assistant Registrar for Thomas University), interview with the author, December 11, 2009.
  68. Lee Wallace (Registrar for Moultrie Technical College), interview with the author, December 11, 2009.
  69. Sparky Reeves, interview with author.
  70. Randy Howard, interview with the author.
  71. Ibid.
  72. Marcus Johnson, interview with the author.
  73. Bryan Shuler, interview with the author.
  74. Marcus Johnson, interview with author.
  75. Randy Howard, interview with author.
  76. Ibid.
  77. Marcus Johnson, interview with author.
  78. Randy Howard, interview with author.
  79. Ibid.
  80. Ibid.; also Tim Estes (Executive Director for the Sumter County Parks and Recreation Department), interview with the author, March 29, 2010.
  81. Randy Howard, interview with author.
  82. Ibid.
  83. Harrison Hove, “Americus Georgia Emergency Officials Failed to Activate Storm Siren,” WCTV-tv, March 9, 2007, http://www.wctv.tv/news/headlines/6409817.html.
  84. Ibid.
  85. Terry Lunn (Director of Hazard Mitigation for Georgia Emergency Management Agency), interview with the author, March 1, 2010.
  86. Michael Sudduth, interview with the author.
  87. Angela Westra (President of the Americus-Sumter Chamber of Commerce), interview with the author, November 17, 2009.
  88. Phillip Daniel (Captain in the Sumter County Sheriff’s Department), interview with the author, November 16, 2009.
  89. Randy Howard, interview with author.
  90. Marcus Johnson, interview with author.
  91. United States Census Bureau, Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places in Georgia.
  92. Ibid.; also, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Local Area Unemployment Statistics and Quarterly Census of Empolyment and Wages.
  93. City-Data, Americus, Georgia (City-Data, 2009), http://www.city-data.com/city/Americus-Georgia.html;City-Data, Waycross, Georgia (City-Data, 2009), http://www.city-data.com/city/Waycross-Georgia.html; City-Data, Thomasville, Georgia (City-Data, 2009), http://www.city-data.com/city/Thomasville-Georgia.html; City-Data, Moultrie, Georgia (City-Data, 2009), http://www.city-data.com/city/Moultrie-Georgia.html; Georgia Department of Labor, Sumter County Georgia Area Labor Profile (Georgia Department of Labor, 2009), http://explorer.dol.state.ga.us/mis/profiles/Counties/sumter.pdf; Georgia Department of Labor, Ware County Georgia Area Labor Profile (Georgia Department of Labor, 2009), http://explorer.dol.state.ga.us/mis/profiles/Counties/ware.pdf; Georgia Department of Labor, Thomas County Georgia Area Labor Profile (Georgia Department of Labor, 2009), http://explorer.dol.state.ga.us/mis/profiles/Counties/thomas.pdf ; Georgia Department of Labor, Colquitt County Georgia Area Labor Profile (Georgia Department of Labor, 2009), http://explorer.dol.state.ga.us/mis/profiles/Counties/colquitt.pdf.
  94. Ibid. (Georgia Department of Labor County Profiles)
  95. Ibid.
  96. Ibid.

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