Hurricane Irma After Action Review – Craig Fugate, Former FEMA Administrator

so I’d like to start off and really move
to what you really here for to hear from our peer reviewers and I think I have
the distinct honor of introducing our facilitator Craig Fugate Craig served as
President Barack Obama’s FEMA administrator from 2009 to 2017 and his
Florida Governor Jeb Bush is Emergency Management Director from 2001 to 2009 he
oversaw the federal government’s response to major events such as the
Joplin and more tornadoes hurricane sandy and Matthew and the 2016 Louisiana
flooding and served Florida during the 2004 2005 hurricane seasons which
included Charlie Francis Ivan Jean Dennis Katrina and Wilma he is a
recipient of the national emergency management associations lacy E Sutter
Award for lifetime achievements and contributions in the field of emergency
management and if you have a chance to talk with Craig that is absolutely
fascinating the amount of disasters and and what he’s been a part of and leading
response and recovery I asked him a few weeks ago when we were talking I said is
there any disaster that you didn’t have to deal with and I think the only thing
he could come up with was volcanoes so he is an eminent expert in our field and
we’re very proud to have him as part of our after-action review with that I’ll
turn it over to mr. Fugate one of us at FEMA we coined a term
called hold community and what that was was a reference that and dealing with
disasters and even in the Oh 405 hurricane season we have moved towards
what I call government centric problem solving we always looked at what
government was going to do the problem was the bigger the disaster the more we
realized that government by itself wasn’t meeting the challenge obviously
we’ve worked with our groups such as Red Cross Salvation Army’s our NGOs and
stuff but too often what we found ourselves doing was writing a plan that
we made the community fit not what the community needed we tended to look at
what government’s going to do and not what the community could do and we
tended to limit our solutions to those things that government did not like
communities do every day so part of our thought as we looked at this was really
to embrace what Sarasota the community was doing coming together not as just
government but as all facets of the community and look at those things that
went well and those things we can improve upon now
Irma was a storm that hit from the keys to Jacksonville and I was engaged in the
day after the storm I had the unique honor of talking to former Governor Jeb
Bush it was calling me about an issue with his son out in Texas from Harvey
and it was interesting that’s the first time that governor Bush and I had been
impacted by a hurricane where the power was out he was in Coral Gables I’m
engaged but we had no power we’re talking I said sir you realize we’re on
the other side of this response he said yeah I can’t even get FDL to return my
calls so it was a it was a challenging storm
but in our after action I think we came across some ideas that we would like you
to consider there are some things that I look at this from the standpoint how do
we simplify for the public how do we make this the most readily accessible
because here’s what’s going to happen the next time a storm threatens Sarah
sub your building codes and land use will be the only real tools you have to
build resiliency before storm hits but once you’re under the gun the only
outcome you’re gonna change is life-saving when you look at hurricanes
the biggest killer is water storm surge and rainfall when is not big killer
two-thirds of the deaths from hurricanes is from water and the only option you
have to change an outcome for a landfalling hurricane is evacuation and
the more people you get to evacuate the better chance you have of keeping your
loss of life to the absolute minimum that is your focus and it needs to be a
singular focus because really at that point there’s not much else you’re going
to do to change the outcome other than move as many people to a safe location
and safe is not relative it’s not convenient and in the state of Florida
since Hurricane Andrew we literally have to evacuate people not just in their
counties but across the state to get the safe locations we know we have areas of
the county that are underserved by shelters but that’s not going to get
solved this hurricane season and we can’t compromise it is too easy to think
well the storms not that bad we will use this shelter you don’t have that option
I’ve been in scenarios where we’ve had to move people we put in shelters that
turned out weren’t going to be safe you ever try to move people when you’re in
tropical force winds you want to make this one destination one time get there
safe so we need to establish a benchmark of what is the safe standard again storm
surge is what we’re back to waiting from and hope is not a strategy we have to go
for the protection now I’m not saying that
people may not get wet but we need to look at where we’re going to have high
velocity water wave action and the type of water that is life threatening and
until we can identify structures that withstand that they’re often shelterless
they may be used for shelter for other things like cold weather events or
chemical spills or other things but the hurricane shelters you have to pick the
ones that are going to be there in the worst storm scenario for storm surge
because you don’t get a do-over and it’s too late to move them if it turns out
the storms worst and I’ve been around a long time Hurricane Charley was a cat
one over Cuba made landfall as a cat for less than 24 hours Hurricane Andrew was
a cat one 48 hours later made landfall as a cat five and if you want to get
some idea what storm surge looks like look to the images of the Mississippi
coast after Katrina where it was a scorched earth policy going in as far as
four to five hundred yards there was water
anybody here ever drop a 10 out past Mississippi going to Louisiana you know
just before you get that Pearl River you know that number pastor you turn out to
go to the Stennis Space Center there was storm surge to breathe five feet from
the road at the bridge that’s what storm surge looks like and that’s why it’s so
critical that when you identify shelters we look at our enhanced protected areas
our primary concern is storm surge secondary concern is wind performance
most of these are school facilities that tends to mean the newer schools built to
the better codes so we’ve had new tools school construction which tends to be on
the periphery that tends to be what’s going to drive shelters now there is
going to be mitigation dollars and other opportunities to go back and find
structures to build retrofit but you got to build them to the Han standard hope
is not a strategy I’ve been in too many scenarios where you get the nylon one
calls going we got water coming in what do we do it’s a little bit late we want
them accessible and pet friendly I think the less we learned was we
we’re gonna have designated pet-friendly shelters and as a school board found out
everybody’s going to bring their pets hey guess what FEMA pays for that that
is a fully reimbursable expense not only for caring for the pets but also to
clean up afterwards so it is again and these types of scenarios simplify for
the public I don’t have to go to that shelter because that’s the one that
takes pet I go to the closest pre-identified shelter at the start of
hurricane season don’t make people figure this out and we’re not going to
do a phase now our recommendation is you open them all and you advertise it
before the season so people know where to go and they’re all pet friendly we
also need to be accessible because I think we want to look at our terminology
of special needs and start looking at maybe special needs isn’t the best way
to describe our populations just because I have a disability doesn’t make me
special needs I may be medically dependent have a
higher level of care and I can use some shelters to divert people from hospitals
but I really need to make sure that as much as possible families can go to
their closest shelter and not be turned away because they’re in a wheelchair or
they brought their pets that is our goal and try to simplify so people know ahead
of time what those shelters are so again we’re not recommending a phase and we
say if you run vacu eight in sarasota county open up all your shelters it’s
much easier to turn them off then as you found out to keep having to turn them on
and they keep up that updating that through that news cycle our zones in
government we love to build complexity and we use all these letters owns but
how many petty people come in to Sarasota County that are transients
don’t live here move here it’s hurricane season and you’re talking zones are
going I live a long B key what zone oh man you’re in an evacuation zone I think
we need to when we’re talking to the public just tell them the areas were
evacuating give them the geographical area give them the roads we just can’t
make the assumptions they’ve studied up and figured out what zone they’re in but
again simplify for the public and just take the approach this may be their
first hurricane and they are clueless make it easy for them to understand that
they know they’re in that evacuation zone another thing how many people have
fun with the re-entry how popular are elected officials when you say you can’t
come back to your home it’s impossible you actually create more problems in
your solving so we said why don’t we color code this and let’s make this an
informed choice that people are making green you can come back it’s relatively
safe you may not have power but there’s no real big problems roads are open you
can come on back yellow it’s a little bit different you may have some roads
washed out there may be a lot of infrastructure out but it’s your
decision to come back red we don’t recommend you coming back it’s unsafe
but it’s your call but you’re going into situation where we may not be able to
get you if something goes wrong and I think why this works is you’re you’re
fighting a losing battle trying to tell people that can’t come back because I
mean how many people here want to be told you can’t go back and see if your
home’s ok and you try to tell the public so let’s give them information of what
areas they’re safe to go back in what areas they should use caution in what
areas were not recommending them to go back in and if they go in they need to
be self-contained and understand they’re probably not gonna be able to stay there
but if they can get into Sally something they get and stop the loss we don’t want
to slow that down either but let’s put putting ourselves on the wrong side of
our public who just want to get back in and if we’re worried about
looting and all this other stuff let’s add the security to it but I think let’s
give people inspiration in a form way to get that and then some of the stuff that
came up quite honestly Mike my experience has been the disasters the
big problems you solve the small problems become big problems so there
were some issues that came up and I think based upon what we’ve learned
we’ve got some recommendations first of all the category looking at the feeding
contracts but I think we need to break this into two pieces one how do we feed
our staffs at the fix locations like the EOC and then looking at separate
contracts because this is an entirely different set up is how do we feel use
our workforce if we did get hit by irma and now you have to feed them in the
field because that means I got that for kitchens I have to have a lot more
resources that’s a much different type of contract than I’m feeding at a fixed
location where I have on-site facilities and there’s a lot of this in the Forest
Service and others that use these routinely on these major wildfires
there’s vehicles out there to do that but I think this is again one of the
things that we we looked at said this would be pretty straightforward the
county was already looking at rebuilding this but I break it into pieces we’re
feeding at fixed facilities where I have certainty and where I’m gonna be feeding
response forces in the field where I don’t have any certainty may not have
infrastructure and I’m off to bring everything in to feed people and set
that up so that those are in place final comment you did not get hit by major
hurricane you got ready for a major hurricane the challenge you have going
from your routine of I think the most ed told me you’ve ever shelter here is
about 2,000 to over 20,000 is a testament to the team that was built but that team
didn’t exist several years ago and this is for the County Commissioners when we
go from a hurricane Charley of a year it is easy
every sequential year to make this less and less as a priority as you’re dealing
with other challenges in your community where fortunately these are not annual
adventure would be real good at this but it’s really paramount to the County
Commission to hold the county manager and your department heads together to
say we will have a team we will have a whole community approach we do make this
a party because quite honestly Sarasota had slacked off after the Oh 05
hurricane season he brought in new leadership they revisited this program
and putting you in a position to be successful for this but that is a
perishable commodity do not expect that every year the team’s ready to go unless
you as County Commissioners hold the County Manager and department heads
accountable going it is the expectation that we will maintain this team we will
maintain our partnerships with our cities will maintain partnerships with
our community partners our school board our other government organizations our
volunteer nonprofits and that is the expectation of Sarasota County
that we build a team to respond to disasters but more importantly to solve
the problems nobody ever heard of before in the middle of crisis and that team
does not just show up they have to exercise they have to train they have to
be built and that is something that Tom and his team before he deserted you we
went the long boat oh by the way we put a tracker on Tom if you’re if you’re
talking to a county employee we’re watching Tom but that team that you guys
built under the direction the County Commission is what got you through this
event and would have gotten you through the recovery but that is a perishable
commodity so that again you really have to look hard at this to go these are
areas improvement because what you accomplished was pretty spectacular all
by itself but we think there are things we can do the simplify for the public
and again the goal here is maximum number of people moving to a safe
location reducing the loss of life that is the outcome we can achieve when a
hurricane bearing down in Sarasota County thank you

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