During hurricane season, preparedness is the key

Shannon Weiner, director of Monroe County Emergency Management, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about how we can prepare for emergencies.

Hurricane Lee was certainly a big one, but thankfully didn’t affect the Keys. Hurricane Idalia did have some impact last week in what is called a hot wash.

Weiner explained, “That’s what we do every time whether we have an exercise, whether it’s a training exercise, or it’s a real world event. For Idalia, even though we only pulled together our EOC partners for a couple days, we were monitoring the storm for three days in advance with our partners at the National Weather Service Key West and sharing that information with our partners. What a hot wash does, it’s a get together of our partners in a training exercise or response. For Idalia, we just pulled together our staff and did what we call an internal hot wash, where we talk about what we did, what worked, and what we could do better next time. It’s something that we find is very useful in emergency management, and just goes along with our continuous planning, training, exercise, testing, and going back and improving our processes cycle, so that we can just do a better job each time that we need to respond for the public safety of our communities.”

Emergency Management is definitely a topic when commemorating the 911 tragedy.

Weiner said, “I think so many things changed about how we respond to large scale events because of 911. You’ll remember the 911 Commission report came out and basically, it was a summary of a lot of those things that went well and needed to be done better. Several presidential directives came out, creating what we call the National Incident Management System. That basically gives us our guiding framework on how we do respond to a large scale event, not just as emergency management, but how we partner and function and organize ourselves with all the different first responders that come to a big event like that. Or even when we have a large scale event here in the county or a large storm, and all the first responders come in from around the country to help support us. It is how we manage and organize ourselves to be able to respond efficiently. It’s a lot of resources and a lot of people to keep on track. Really, since 911, emergency management has grown as a profession because of that.”

It’s critical to have open communication with dispatchers, the military and air traffic control.

Weiner said, “I will say it is a little bit easier to do it on a smaller scale, than it is on such a large scale. But here in Monroe County we’re very fortunate, our community is very tight knit from the local, the state and the federal level. We include not just our military partners, because they do play a big role in our community, even on a day to day basis, but also our not for profit agencies as well. It’s a very nice and easy community to work with. When you deal with a larger geographic area, sometimes it is harder to pull those people together and build those relationships and communicate as much as you need to. But here in Monroe County, we do a good job of that. We see each other lots of times, in between events. So that helps build those relationships as well. Communication is always the biggest struggle when it comes to any type of emergency response.”

Emergency Management also works with the Coast Guard.

Weiner said, “The Coast Guard here in Sector Key West has what they call the area maritime security committee. It is a committee that pulls together the partners in the county. So lots of law enforcement, fire, the hospitals, and emergency management. At the local, state and federal level, we all partner together as a part of this committee to help the Coast Guard plan and be prepared for any threat that might come to the port. We’ve been planning for several months now, a mass rescue operation exercise, so we can get all the different agencies together because in reality, everyone comes and everyone helps each other out here in this county, which is again, another incredible thing about Monroe County. If there were to be the need for a mass rescue on the water, Coast Guard is obviously the lead both for the exercise planning, and if there were to be an event in real life, but it takes the help of all the partners working together to help save those lives. We worked with them under their guidance and leadership and we’ll be participating with them this week in the exercise. The exercise will actually be Wednesday day. It’ll be down by the Truman Waterfront and out on the waters behind the Coast Guard there at Truman annex. We have some staff filling roles as evaluators and controllers, which are individuals that help make sure the exercise stays on track and gives feedback on the play of the those participating in the exercise. The city of Key West is actually going to exercise their EOC and we’re sending some planning staff to help support them as they practice standing up their exercise and responding to the scenario. A really great opportunity to get together, to communicate, to train and to get to know each other really is a big thing with those exercises, knowing who you see, getting used to working with each other in a unusual or not so normal environment. So really, really great exercise that the Coast Guard has put together and we look forward to participating in it on Wednesday.”

This is Florida Preparedness Month for 2023.

Weiner said, “I would hope that everyone made a plan back in June when hurricane season first started. We’ve been very lucky here in the Keys not to have had a direct impact. But it is the height of hurricane season. Having that plan is so important. You should have a plan to stay if it’s a small storm and you should have a plan to evacuate if it’s a large storm. If you’re saying, you want to have that five day supply of food and water and the water you should have about a gallon of water per person per day. So that’s very, very important. We do try to get resources in here as soon as possible to help backup your supply. But we know that that response can sometimes take 48, 72 hours or more, so it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. It always makes things a little bit more comfortable. So having your canned food, goods, your water, definitely important, having any prescriptions that you might need, because if we lose electric and power, Walgreens might not be open for a couple of days. So definitely important to have extra prescriptions on standby and food for your pets, that’s a big one. I always go out every May, and my dog eats dry dog food, and I buy a couple extra bags of dog food, and I keep them in my downstairs enclosure, and they’re extra. They’re for hurricane season. So it’s important to think about your pets and if your pets have prescriptions as well. So definitely have that plan and the supplies to stay. If we ask you to evacuate, have a plan on where you’re going to go. If you have to go to a shelter, or you go somewhere on the mainland, stay with friends, bring your food and water. Because you never know, you might need it there too. You’ll have it with you when you travel, you’ll have it with you when you come back. So just a good idea to have a plan and be prepared.”

Reentry stickers will help you get back home easily.

Weiner said, “The tax collector’s office, any tax collector’s office, you can go in, show your proof of residency, which is your either your tax bill or a utility bill or a rental agreement and your Florida identification, you can go in, show them that. You have one sticker for each registered vehicle. They are available, up until we activate for the storm because the tax collector’s office are residents too and they have to prepare their businesses and their homes to be safe for the storm as well. So make sure make sure you grab those stickers in advance.”