Friday, August 28, 2015

How Florida saved southern Mississippi after Katrina

I am still amazed at how few people across this nation are familiar with the amazing and historic story of how the state of Florida, at the request of Governor Haley Barbour, assumed emergency management responsibility for the six southern counties of Mississippi before Hurricane Katrina had even exited their state. Under the direction of then Director of Emergency Management Craig Fugate Florida moved over 6,000 local and state responders into the affected counties and purchased in excess of $180 million of supplies for the affected counties.

I participated in this event and wrote an account of what I saw that was published in the Orlando Sentinel when I returned. This past week I have been posting pictures in social media to educate the public that New Orleans and Louisiana weren't the only places affected by Hurricane Katrina. Someone needs to write a book about what Florida did in Mississippi after Katrina and I have that task on my list of "Things to Do."

My friend Rand Napoli, at the direction of Craig Fugate, led the initial "Task Force Florida" element down I-10 into southern Mississippi in the early hours of August 30th, 2005, the day after Katrina impacted the coast. Rand allowed me to publish the following pictures and an account of those hectic first few days:

Rand Naopli and Jeanne Pincha-Tulley, the Incident Command for Calif. Task Force 3, our U.S. Forest Service logistics partners, discuss plans in front of the Florida Mobile Command Vehicle.
"Task Force Florida search and rescue teams, firefighters, law enforcement, ambulance transport capability and Florida Forest Service assets left long before sunup on the 30th and were on the ground and rescuing folks in Biloxi and Gulfport mid-day on the 30th. Everything that we had staged in and around Tallahassee that was meant for the Florida panhandle (which is where we thought Katrina might make landfall) went with us to MS."

Morning briefing for fire and Emergency Medical Service crews headed
to rural areas to treat survivors and provide water.
"The search and rescue task forces were directed to drop off in Biloxi and Gulfport and got to work while the command team and other assets continued on to Stennis. We had been told that FEMA and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) would be meeting us there and they would have their command established. It was several days before FEMA and MEMA had an operational presence on the ground in southern Mississippi."

"Beginning the morning of Day 2 (August 31st), we sent dozens of units (usually a Fire Engine and an ambulance together) loaded with as much water and commodities as they could carry out into the 6 counties to treat survivors as needed and to leave water for them."

"The plan was to stay for a few days, do primary search, treat any injuries and other medical issues we found, distribute the water and other commodities that we brought and come home when MEMA and FEMA were able to take over. That didn’t happen very quickly, and Task Force Florida turned into the Florida Area Command and stayed for months"

Some of the 300 trucks of water, ice and commodities that were staged at the Stennis Space Center and then distributed into the affected areas in the first days of the Florida Area Command.. 
"It became obvious immediately when we arrived that this was a long term event and that’s when I advised leadership at the Florida State EOC on a satellite call late that first night that southern Mississippi was hit much worse than even the folks at MEMA and FEMA realized (not to mention that the nation's focus was on New Orleans) and “we needed a bigger boat,” lots more people and that this would be a long term deployment."

Because of Rand's phone call and other reports from the area, Mike DeLorenzo, the State Emergency Response Team Chief, and I spoke after the morning briefing September 1st at the Florida State EOC. Mike told me that there were considerable human services problems in the affected area and that he was going to recommend to Craig Fugate that I be deployed to the Florida Area Command at the Stennis Space Center to coordinate the mass care response.

Later that morning I was directed to proceed to Mississippi. I recruited two other employees from my Department, Peter Newman and Candace Bunker, to come with me. We left Tallahassee on the morning of September 2nd and arrived at Stennis that afternoon into the middle of a catastrophic event, with instructions to try and make things better.

We immediately had our hands full. But that's another story. I guess I'll talk about it when I write the book.

No comments:

Post a Comment