Table of Contents
On September 6, 2017, reports of a category 5 hurricane named Hurricane Irma made landfall and began to rip through Barbuda and St. Martin with winds of up to 185 mph. Later that day at about 1400 Hurricane Irma began to hit the British Virgin islands. Seeing the power and destruction Hurricane Irma is capable of, President Trump declared a state of emergency in Puerto Rico, Florida, and U.S Virgin Islands. On September 9th, Hurricane Irma hit Florida, first hitting the Keys with the power of a category 4 hurricane. When the Hurricane finally reached Florida’s mainland, the winds died down changing what was a category 5 storm into a 3.Monday, September 11th, Hurricane Irma was downgraded to a tropical storm and eventually after traveling through Georgia and Alabama, a tropical depression.
Hurricane Irma was responsible for catastrophic destruction to multiple countries. The Prime Minister of Antigua Barbuda described Barbuda as “barely habitable.” The Hurricane left 60% of the population in Barbuda homeless and destroyed almost all communication on the Island. When Hurricane Irma made landfall in Miami, the winds were powerful enough to take down three cranes and cause flooding to several streets. The death toll for this massive hurricane was roughly 135 but would have been higher if nearly 5.6 million individuals had not evacuated their homes. Besides the deaths, Hurricane Irma is the fifth most expensive hurricane in history, causing around 50 billion dollars in damage.
Organizations that Helped
Organizations from around the world were busy preparing citizens for Hurricane Irma, while others were ready to respond to the disaster. A Christian organization, The Convoy of Hope, took initiative in preparing citizens for Hurricane Irma by giving food, water, and sanitary supplies to the citizens of Springfield, Florida. Organizations like The Convoy of Hope, who donate supplies to citizens prior to impending disasters, help extend the golden 72 hours for those who become a prisoner in their own home. Not only was the organization able to provide supplies before the hurricane but they were also standing by to assist in recovery operations after.
A well known organization named, The Salvation Army, was also on standby to help pass out much needed supplies. The Capital Area American Red Cross, a humanitarian organization, was responsible for setting up 14 shelters in Leon County, while 387 were set up elsewhere making this the largest amount of shelters ever required by Florida. Additionally, The American Red Cross deployed trailers which were stocked with cots and supplies.
The Second Harvest Food Bank made a massive impact to the recovery of Hurricane Irma by donating a total of 10,000 MRE’s, 80,000 pounds of food and supplies immediately after the hurricane. Throughout the following six weeks, they managed to donate an additional 280,000 pounds of food and supplies that were shipped Big Bend and Red Cross Shelters. These supplies were shipped Big Bend, and Red Cross shelters.
FEMA activated its response and recovery team to help those who were in need. By January 3, 2018 the agency donated more than 10.2 million meals, 20 million liters of water, and 206 generators to states in the Southeast. The FEMA Urban Search and Rescue and Coast Guard were also called called upon to help in the locating of missing citizens. “Task forces stationed in the Caribbean have conducted 1,141 rescues, and, in Florida, FEMA US&R saved 1,006 lives.” The Coast Guard’s activated search and rescue team located 326 more individuals and 53 pets.
These organizations were able to make an impact on Hurricane Irma’s victims but they suffered challenges of their own. Jeff Nene, a spokesperson for The Convoy of Hope, explained the challenges the organization faced before and after Hurricane Irma hit Florida. Nene called Hurricane Irma “a worst-case scenario because it’s wider than the state of Florida,’. Due to Hurricane Irma’s size, organizations were forced to wait until the worst of the storm had passed.
This was a safety measure for the organizations but ruined their response time. Hurricane Irma struck Florida while organizations were still responding to Hurricane Harvey clean up. This caused organizations to be spread thin and have their supplies diminished due to the additional needs of residents. Getting over this challenge was not easy, The Convoy of Hope heavily relied on donations from all over the country to help meet the demand they were faced with.
In an interview with Fox News, Suzy Defrancis, the Chief Public Safety Officer for The American Red Cross, explained the challenges that were being faced. She mentioned the inability to travel around the Florida Keys, the power outages, a lack of fuel, and unnecessary personnel on transportation routes.
The Salvation Army’s case manager, Audrey Easterling, mentioned that they faced a lack of food in their storage sheds. Ms. Easterling explains how bad the food situation was and that it was hard not to help when she says “We really don’t have much . just some canned goods. It’s upsetting because you want to help the people who come here,” she said “It is very hard on our all of us. we aren’t used to not being able to help. I have just been telling them what we have and a lot of them say they will just check back.”. The Salvation Army was challenged by the sheer number of people of people needing help. Audrey talks about seeing more than double the amount of people expected “On a regular Monday, we might see about 20 people. This past Monday we saw 50 people. Tuesday was about the same”
Aftermath of Irma
Hurricane Irma left catastrophic damage behind. As said in the introduction paragraph Hurricane Irma caused around 50 billion dollars in damage. “The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) reported total estimated insured losses at more than $5.8 billion as of Nov. 13, with more than 689,000 residential property claims and 51,396 commercial property claims.”. When a disaster such as Hurricane Irma strikes, citizens expect to be reimbursed for the damage caused to their property and there are multiple ways Florida handled this situation.
Reimbursement for Damaged Property
The Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund reported that “the state fund that provides backing to private insurers would pay about $5.1 billion in claims.” FEMA’S Individuals and Households Program helped pay for one billion dollars in damage that was spread out in amounts of “$693.4 million in Housing Assistance—$503.8 million to help pay rent for those whose homes were not habitable after the storm and another $180.8 million for home repairs.
Nearly $307 million was approved for Other Needs Assistance”. Other residents received money through government aid, it was reported that 15 billion dollars was paid out through government aid. Another 204 million dollars was paid out through The Federal Government’s Flood Insurance. Lastly, many people did not file an insurance claim, for example a resident of Miami-Dade County, Hammid, felt that fixing his fence on his own dime would be easier than filing an insurance claim.
Working to Build Back Better
Numerous community organizations wanted to be involved in the recovery process. In South Florida, the 27 year old Homestead-based non-profit organization Farm Share distributed 2 million pounds of food in the first 10 days. In the Florida keys, The Crisis relief team which consists of a group of volunteers worked together to clean up debris, roof tarping, and uses drones to gather information of damage and then gives that information to residents.
As for donations the United Way of Miami-Dade, the Miami Herald/el Nuevo Herald, Univision 23 and JCS Switchboard created operation helping hands to raise money for those affected in South Florida. The Florida Keys had the United Way of the Florida Keys raising money for those affected in the Keys area. Organizations like the ones listed were guided by the FEMA and Voluntary Agency Liaisons, which would participate in volunteer meetings as well as provide support and suggestions to better coordinate their recovery efforts.
Changes to Collier’s Response Plan Changes
Dan Summers who is the head of Collier’s emergency management response team, learned lessons from Hurricane Irma’s destruction and took action. One change made to the response plan was to make sure every nursing home had a generator on site at all times. This was brought to his attention after 14 people died after a nursing home in Hollywood Florida lost power. Besides having generators mandatory at nursing homes, the new response plan requires those generators to be inspected by a third party.
This change was made after generators at facilities were inspected and a list of problems in the generator were discovered. Another change put in place was “gas stations that have more than eight pumps or are within one-half mile of an interstate highway or evacuation route to have generators.”. Lastly a recommendation was put in that all gas stations and citizens have cash before a storm hits just incase gas stations internet service was down.
Pinellas County After Action Plan
The Pinellas county released an after action report stating numerous recommendations to build the county’s resistance to natural disasters and improve preparedness. After Hurricane Irma the county plans to increase CIC staffing especially during storm surges. The PCEM (Pinellas County Emergency Management) and Florida Department of Health in Pinellas county will receive further education on what necessities should be in shelters. The PCEM wants to work on the technological ability to track people and pets as they occupy and depart from shelters.
What I Learned from My Research
The first most noticeable and most shocking part of my research has to do with the Collier’s response plan. I was dumbfounded at the fact that after Hurricane Irma passed it took 14 citizens dead to make it mandatory for generators to be put into nursing homes. This made me realize that the people who make city emergency management plans must reread them and update the plans. I can not believe that this was not a mandatory in all plans of a state that is notorious for its’ intense heat and natural disasters.
Although, there was that fact that shocked me, the plan did teach me the positives about adding gas pumps near evacuation routes because it can be overlooked. Researching about the problems some organizations faced, I found the Red Cross’ problem with citizens driving during their fuel shortage interesting. This made me question that in a future disaster there will be a ban put on driving at some point whether when they realize fuel shortage is a problem, a day after the disaster so people can check on family, or only if you are evacuating will driving be allowed.
Lasly I agree that there should be more research put into finding technological ways to track people and pets occupying shelters as mentioned in the Pinellas County after action plan. I believe that finding a solution will help those running shelters become more organized with the amount of food, water, and equipment.