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‘I couldn’t be more proud of how Forsyth County responded’
Emergency Management director shares thoughts on COVID-19 response, lessons learned
Chris Grimes
Chris Grimes, director of Forsyth County’s Emergency Management Agency, has been on the front lines of the pandemic since the beginning. - photo by Kelly Whitmire

This article appears in the December issue of  400 Life Magazine

There has been a lot of change in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic with the country learning new phrases, like “social distancing,” finding new ways to go to work and school at home or in-person while limiting the spread of the disease and keeping up with the ever-changing numbers, data and other information surrounding the outbreak.

All those changes have meant Chris Grimes, who serves as director of Forsyth County’s Emergency Management Agency, has had a busy year between responding to the pandemic and the more typical weather-related emergencies he typically deals with, such as Tropical Storm Zeta.

“In our business, it’s always best to plan for the worst and hope for the best,” Grimes said.

But he has also been in a more forward-facing role this year, updating the community on information as it becomes available and helping with the county’s plan for dealing with the pandemic and other emergencies and, most recently, being awarded one of the Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce’s most prestigious honors, the Chuck Welch Citizenship Award, for his efforts.

400 Life recently sat down with Grimes to talk about the attention he has received, his extra workload, the county’s response and more.

Being EMA director is usually a behind-the-scenes role, what has it been like for you this year being more out in the public than in most years?

“I think that one thing that is nice is people are getting a better understanding of what emergency management really is. Yes, we are generally a behind-the-scenes organization where we work with a lot of partner agencies. A lot of people think it’s the fire department or sheriff’s office, it goes much deeper than that.

“You’re talking about other county resources, roads and bridges, the animal shelter, the Red Cross, Salvation Army, some of the volunteer agencies, some of the state agencies like GEMA and DOT and the forestry commission and some of the federal agencies…”

What has it been like balancing the COVID-19 response with the department’s normal duties?

“A lot of times, we deal with things that are more like a spring. You have hurricanes, you have severe storms and … you’re busy for a little bit, but you’re generally busy and then it trails off. 

“We’ve dealt with more of a marathon this year where you’ve got one on top of the other, so for our staff, we try to take it one day at a time, one step at a time and we deal with things as they come up.”

What goes into a normal week now that the department wasn’t doing a year ago?

“We were always planning fur hurricanes and surge storms and getting into winter weather now, and a little more regional approach to it. We’re really looking now nationwide on COVID to see what are the trends, what are other states dealing with, what are the lessons learned from other states.”


How do you feel about the local response to COVID-19?

“I’ll tell you, I couldn’t be more proud of how Forsyth County responded, and, once again, it’s not me, it’s been all levels. I think we got on it and did some things early on, through the [Forsyth County] commissioners and [Cumming] city council where we were able to support small business, where we were able to support people and I think we have weathered the storm very well compared to most places.

“Obviously, we’ve learned lessons along the way and pandemic is one of those things you hope you will never be confronted with again, but what a lot of people don’t realize is there have actually been smaller pandemics in just the last few years, so how do we take the things that we learned now … I hope there never is a ‘next time,’ but if there is, we [know] what we need to consider.

What are some of those lessons that have been learned? 

“The testing has been a huge lesson learned for us and just the demand for testing. Whether big or small, I don’t think any community knew what was going to happen with the testing and the demand for testing.

“We’ve got a great relationship with [the department of public health], but for instance, if you were to go get tested today, once public health gets the specimen and sends it off to the lab, at that point, it’s kind of out of both of our hands.

“I think testing has been one of the biggest, that and supply chain. I don’t think anybody knew what this would do to the supply chain, and it’s hard to comprehend until you’re in it. When everybody in the world is trying to get PPE or trying to get other resources, how that impact the supply chain.”

As we continue to deal with the pandemic, what advice do you have for the community? 

“It doesn’t matter if we’re in a pandemic, dealing with winter weather, people always need to be prepared for emergencies and disasters.

“We saw a huge amount of power outages during Zeta, and generally, disasters happen quickly.

“Think about how quick things shut down at the beginning [of the COVID pandemic], how quick things disappeared off shelves, so no matter if it’s local or worldwide, it’s important to be prepared not just for pandemics but for any emergencies.”