Emergency Response to Disasters

With hurricane season having started June 1, in Florida each year, residents should know where to turn when these emergencies occur. In Florida, the Division of Emergency Management is tasked with planning for and responding to natural and man made disasters.

The DEM also heads the recovery and additional efforts made to avoid future disasters. The needs of the survivors and responders are always the highest priority. Reviewing the timeline for Hurricane Matthew may provide us with the most accurate expectations for the next tropical storm.

Declaring a Hurricane Warning for the Public

On Sept. 30 2016, Rick Scott notified the public that Hurricane Matthew moving over the Caribbean was upgraded to a category four hurricane, with winds of up to 140 mph expected to touch down on Florida within days. Two days later, Scott and the DEM Director reiterated the message, describing the hurricane as posing a significant risk of severe weather and rip currents, even without direct landfall.

By the next day, Hurricane Matthew had claimed four lives, and although it wasn’t expected to directly hit Florida, Scott preemptively declared a state of emergency. The National Guard was now on standby for deployment, while Governor Scott was busy coordinating with utilities to prepare for power outages. There were also additional fuel trucks available on standby along the Florida Turnpike. By Oct. 4, the state emergency response team began implementing a number of emergency support functions.

First Responders Deployment for a Hurricane

Around 200 Florida National Guard members were initially activated for hurricane preparedness and response, with another 6,000 on standby. By Oct. 5, 330 Florida Highway Patrol troopers, 60 search and rescue teams and hundreds of other personnel members from state agencies were deployed throughout the state.

There were also another 300 Florida National Guard members deployed the next day as well. Later that day, Governor Scott requested that the President declare a pre-landfall emergency for the state of Florida. Scott’s request also included another 1,000 National Guard members to add onto the 1,500 already posted throughout the state.

Resources like tarps, food and water were also included in the governor’s request. By the next day, Florida had 2,500 National Guard members activated throughout the state and another 4,000 on standby. The Florida Highway Patrol designated 49 staff members to assist in evacuations, with over another 300 personnel on standby. By the next day, over 1.5 million residents were under evacuation orders.

Assessing the Power Grid and Recovery Efforts

Over 1.1 million residents or 11 percent of Florida’s population experienced power outages on Oct 7. The outages were widespread that day, leaving 60 to 100 percent of some 30 counties without any power. On Oct. 7, nearly 24,000 people were displaced to over 180 different shelters made available in the state.

Three days later, the evacuations orders were lifted, residents were allowed to return to home and power outages were down to 2 percent. With National Guardsmen deactivated, the Florida Highway Patrol now managed safe passage through affected areas and local recovery efforts through the state. The everlasting damage inflicted by a Hurricane can occur within a matter of days, so it’s important to heed the warnings of state officials, industry experts and qualified professionals.