Hurricane Irma is one of the most powerful and devastating hurricanes in recorded history. As the death toll continues to rise, panic is starting to sink in, even amongst Floridians who have borne the brunt of countless hurricane seasons. As damage reports from the Caribbean have continued to come in, including the devastating report that a majority of the island of Barbuda’s infrastructure was destroyed, the feeling of urgency and necessary action has continued to increase in Florida.
Panic in emergency management is forthcoming yet taxing. The comprehensive disaster planning taken on by average citizens throughout the state (gas sales, food and water sales, and hardware supply sales) shows that Floridians are taking this rather seriously, perhaps motivated by the decimating effects of Hurricane Harvey on Texas. However, due to the magnitude of the wind and rain bands of Irma, most of Florida has been placed under hurricane warnings thus leading to widespread evacuation and shelter operations.
As part of the Department of Health in Leon County’s Public Health Preparedness team, I take part in the Special Needs Shelter operations for the county and region. Citizens may qualify and register for the Special Needs Shelter if they are electric or oxygen dependent. In times of emergency, the Emergency Support Function- 8 (ESF-8 Public Health) is activated and held responsible for staffing the shelter.
We work closely and collaborate with other community partners and emergency management to serve the community in times of distress. My emergency responsibilities are located at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at the ESF-8 desk. On September 9, the Leon County Emergency Operations Center was partially activated as our threat and risk level rose with the continued westward movement of Hurricane Irma’s projected path. From 0700 to 1900 I was tasked with answering questions for citizens of the county who were inquiring about the Special Needs Shelter. Speaking with local residents on their situations regarding special needs sheltering and helping in any way I can was very sobering and humbling.
Helping those in need is the ultimate goal in emergency management. To save lives, protect property, and protect the environment. The EOC serves as a critical communication tool for the emergency management community. If someone required transportation to the Special Needs Shelter, we are able to coordinate with local public transit, who sits across the table from ESF-8 in the EOC. The passion of emergency management personnel to help the citizens of Leon County is an amazing scene to witness. They too will be weathering Irma, as are the citizens choosing to stay and seek shelter in our area.
Link to NOAA website tracking Irma: