Heroes of Hermine

by | Sep 14, 2016

Tallahassee got lucky. For as much damage as the city took, as hard as the power grid got clobbered, things could have been much, much worse. Hurricane Hermine wasn’t really even a hurricane based on the sea level winds when it made landfall, which were clocked near Apalachicola at only 57 mph, gusting as high as 67 mph (at higher altitudes, winds were clocked above the 75 mph category one hurricane threshold). Still, in a community packed with beautiful trees of all shapes and sizes, the wind and rain took its toll, and much has been written about the damage, and the response to the storm.

While we righteously bashed the daylights out of Leon County Sheriff Mike Wood and his senior leadership for their selfish use of county generators at their private homes, there were far more bright spots worth highlighting. Among them:

Preparations / Warnings – Florida is “the hurricane state,” period. Our emergency management is second to none, and in the days leading up to Hermine making landfall, state and local officials did a fantastic job warning the public about potential dangers, making the right decisions, and making certain nobody got caught off guard.

First Responders – Watching the Weather Channel while Hermine was making landfall, it was reassuring to see state and local law enforcement and first responders on my television screen as the rains came down on news correspondents broadcasting live from the coast. These brave men and women risked their lives keeping their eyes on the storm for us.

State & Local Emergency Infrastructure – In spite of widespread power outages, other systems that needed to work, did, like the State Law Enforcement Radio System (SLERS), which remained operational throughout the storm. SLERS enabled police and emergency crews to coordinate the response where it was needed most, including helping to deploy more than 170 emergency power generators (supplied by the Florida Department of Transportation) to critical intersections without power to the traffic control lights. If only we knew where a few more generators could have been found…

Neighbors Helping Neighbors – As On3 PR’s Christina Johnson and Cory Tilley from Core Message point out in their new Tallahassee 100 email newsletter:

“People helping one another over Labor Day weekend truly defined us. Stories of compassion and sense of community connected Tallahassee’s powerful (and powerless) via neighborhood grids with tales of good deeds running rampant on social media. Needs of ice, food, chainsaws, generators, a cool place to lay one’s head – and much needed coffee – were not only met, but enthusiastically fulfilled.”

Incidentally, this played out at my house as well. My family was very lucky – we got power restored late Friday night, less than 24 hours after it went out. And for the next several days, we hosted four different families, sharing our hot water, lights, our washer and dryer, our refrigerator and our electric stove. It was actually a lot of fun, an experience our children won’t soon forget.

Local Businesses and Community Institutions – I think I know why Governor Rick Scott tapped former Walmart emergency management director Bryan Koon to handle emergency operations in Florida. In the aftermath of Hermine, as Tally residents began to realize power wasn’t going to come back on anytime soon, Walmart really had their stuff together. I went to the store looking to buy a few bags of ice. As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one. What could have easily turned into an ugly, desperate scene was actually a pleasant, organized experience. The store was clearly running on an emergency generator, and had to block off their frozen foods section in order to preserve power, but otherwise, it was business as usual inside the store. People were shopping – virtually all of them with several bags of ice in a shopping cart – and the Walmart management team was doing a fantastic job of doling out the bags to everyone who wanted them. The process was organized, orderly and contributed to keeping everyone calm and rational. My hat is off to the management team on Thomasville Road.

Power companies and crews – These folks took a lot of heat, especially as the outages dragged on, but they worked their tails off for a week straight, night and day. Even today, driving up Centerville Road, you can see the lingering effects of the storm: precariously dangling tree limbs, old power lines still snarled, discarded limbs cut away as the crews performed an electrical company form of emergency triage. I had one family friend go without power for five days, and another family from our church went nine days without power. But those are extreme cases. For the most part, there was widespread damage and the crews worked under hazardous conditions to get our city on its feet again.

Other bright spots:

  • Madison Social, Southern Seafood Company and grocery stores like Publix who either provided meals for utility workers and first responders, free ice, or were up and running through most of the aftermath, even though their homes and families were affected, too.
  • FSU for hosting the FSU v Ole Miss watch party at the Civic Center 
  • The few people who actually treated intersections like 4 way stops.

 

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