Therefore, with the 2017 hurricane season arriving in a few weeks, county emergency management officials and their partners were practicing with the hope they won’t be playing this year.

 

 

A well-worn sports adage holds you play as you practice.

Therefore, with the 2017 hurricane season arriving in a few weeks, county emergency management officials and their partners were practicing with the hope they won’t be playing this year.

The county has not received significant impacts from a hurricane in nearly a decade, but preparedness is the watchword as June 1 approaches and the state understaking a hurricane preparedness exercise last week.

The exercise played out in real time, offering the opportunity for those whose workplace becomes the Emergency Operation Center in time of a storm to practice and understand their roles.

“Everbody has a responsibility,” said county emergency management director Marshall Nelson. “We take a whole community approach.”

The exercise, which played out across all 67 counties, actually featured two hurricanes arriving nearly simultaneously, one racing up the peninsula while the other heading toward Northwest Florida after loitering in the Gulf of Mexico.

There was even a tsunamai warning, since worst-case scenarios must always be entertained.

While those storms pushed state assets to the hilt, Nelson reviewed the local “playbook” for a room of partners from EMS, law enforcement, county public works, Sacred Heart Hospital on the Gulf, the Florida Department of Health in Gulf County and various key county offices.

For example, spending money is part of a major storm, before and after. Having the Clerk of Courts at the table is essential.

“I want them to understand the concept of running the EOC under a command incident system,” Nelson said.

Folks are assigned teams, there is a hierarchy, for reporting up the chain and communicating among teams.

As is the case with any small county with limited resources, individuals may report to and work under more than one team.

“We all have to work together,” Nelson said. “You want to get a standard way of doing things. That’s why we practice as much as we can.”

That practice is a circle, taking place in and out of hurricane season, playing in different ways across the calendar.

Nelson and staff conduct departmental exercises regularly and he and his staff will cover items with members of the EOC team individually, ensuring full knowledge of what each department is responsible for.

Practice, practice so that in the crunch, the play is right, while always focused on the central objective: people.

“We’re trying to keep people safe, that is primary and everything else is secondary,” Nelson said. “We can sit here and talk about it all day long, but until you get into it you don’t fully understand.

“I teach the fundamentals.”

Those fundamentals begin with establishing essential communications, understanding storm tracking, staging assets in advance of the storm, including something as small as ensuring sand bags are available.

It continues through the storm into recovery, beginning with debris removal.

But, most of all, team.

“Everybody has a role,” Nelson said.