TALLAHASSEE — Three months after Hurricane Hermine slammed the Tallahassee area, the Leon County Administrator slams the governor’s office and state government for adding to confusion and miscommunication during recovery efforts.
Hurricane Hermine was the first hurricane to hit Florida since 2005. It made landfall on the Florida Panhandle on Sept. 2 and made a beeline for Tallahassee. Damage caused by the storm left many thousands of citizens without electricity for several days.
In the “Hurricane Hermine After Action Report” that will be presented to county commissioners on Dec. 13, County Administrator Vincent S. Long highlights strengths and areas for improvement in Leon County’s emergency response efforts. Most glaring in the critique, are findings which point a finger at the state and governor for hampering operations.
It states that Governor Rick Scott’s comments that Tallahassee was turning away help, which the report denies, “added challenges to emergency communications efforts in an already challenging environment.”
The report says, “The governor made public comments during Hurricane Hermine suggesting that the city was refusing aid and intentionally prolonging recovery efforts. The governor’s actions fueled speculation and the spread of inaccurate misinformation that the city was refusing additional assistance to aid in response and recovery efforts…”
“On Sept. 4, Governor Scott issued a press release suggesting incorrectly that the county and city had declined further cut and toss assistance from FDOT (Florida Department of Transportation). Later that evening, the governor’s office retracted the governor’s statement, indicating that it was based on a misunderstanding between the county and city… at no point during the Hurricane Hermine incident did Leon County refuse assistance from the state,” according to the report.
The report also cites requests made of the state prior to the hurricane making landfall which were denied.
“The potential for flooding and extended power outages were a concern identified throughout the activation and conference calls hosted by the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). Unfortunately, several of the county’s pre-landfall mission requests were denied by the state in the areas of transportation and public works,” according to the report.
“These denied requests demonstrate a lack of clear and consistent communication between the state and local governments,” it continued.
According to the After Action Report, a request for 20,000 sandbags to support sandbag distribution sites was placed for Leon County and the City of Tallahassee to the State EOC. The resource was identified as available by the FDOT office in Midway. However, FDOT staff in the State EOC denied the request.
Additionally, according to the report, a request for 30 generators to power traffic signals was placed on behalf of the City of Tallahassee. Again, the resource was identified as available by the local FDOT office in Midway. However, again, FDOT staff in the State EOC denied the request. “As a result of the initial denial, an additional request for 50 generators was approved after Hermine made landfall for traffic signals…,” the report said.
A third request was also denied. According to the report, a request for assistance with road debris clearance on Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) roads was denied by FDOT staff in the State EOC.
The report stated, “An FDOT representative at the State EOC called to advise that FDOT contractors could assist with cut and toss operations after Leon County exhausted all of its staff and contractual resources. Subsequent to the initial denial of the county’s request for road clearing cut and toss assistance, the FDOT Secretary directly contacted the City of Tallahassee the next day and advised that FDOT resources would be made available to assist with cut and toss operations on city-maintained roadways. The following day, on Sept. 3, Leon County Public Works re-requested FDOT resources to assist with cut and toss operations upon learning that FDOT resources were available. This second request was approved, 41 hours after the storm had passed through Leon County.”
The report states, “In each case, these pre-landfall mission requests were marked as ‘complete’ and followed up by a phone call denying the request.”
To develop the Hurricane Hermine After Action Report the Leon County administration and Leon County Emergency Management held five community listening sessions with 400 citizens total, held eight debriefing meetings with personnel involved in recovery efforts, conducted follow-up interviews with key staff, and met with an organized group of local residents to examine their findings.
The report had 110 findings and 80 recommendations.
The two major recommendations of the report are as follows: to engage a disaster planning professional in partnership with the City of Tallahassee to evaluate the community’s overall vulnerabilities, resiliency, and community expectations associated with a severe weather event; and, to return the emergency management program under the county commission on a year-round basis, stating, “Many of circumstances that supported the 1999 Interlocal Agreement shifting the day-to-day oversight of Leon County Emergency Management to the Sheriff, only to return under the Board in the event of a disaster, are no longer applicable today.”