Emergency Management officials on the Georgia coast said Wednesday that the area will likely see some effect from Hurricane Irma, though it was too soon to tell how strong the storm would be or whether evacuations would be ordered. Those decisions could come this weekend.
In the meantime, emergency management agencies on the coast were urging residents to monitor the storm and prepare in case it hits.
They urged people to create or update family communication plans and prepare an emergency kit, including water, food, medical supplies and other necessities.
"If families can do those two things," said Chatham Emergency Management Director Dennis Jones, "we'll be a much more resilient community."
Jones advised people to prepare an evacuation plan as well. He noted that there are now two kinds of possible evacuation orders: general and mandatory.
"You're allowed to use personal discretion during a general evacuation; we're encouraging you to go," Jones said. "During a mandatory evacuation, it's an executive order. We're asking everybody within the county limits or within that evacuation zone to evacuate."
Officials will no longer use the term "voluntary evacuation."
Planning for an evacuation has changed since Hurricane Matthew in Chatham County, which now has three evacuation zones instead of two.
The question of whether to evacuate ultimately rests with the head of county government. But mayors of individual cities could opt to issue orders that go beyond those of the county; for instance, the city of Tybee could evacuate before Chatham County.
As officials prepared to make those decisions in the coming days, they urged residents to follow official sources for storm updates, including official websites and social media and the National Weather Service.