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Village staff drills to stay storm-ready

Firefighter Chris Stanton, Fire-Rescue Capt. Walter Mason and Assistant Fire Chief Jason Lyman take part in a hurricane preparedness drill at fire Station 20 Tuesday morning.
Firefighter Chris Stanton, Fire-Rescue Capt. Walter Mason and Assistant Fire Chief Jason Lyman take part in a hurricane preparedness drill at fire Station 20 Tuesday morning.

It's almost the end of June and no tropical cyclone activity is expected in the Atlantic over the next few days.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is forecasting a below-normal six-month storm season, which ends in November. But sometimes inactive seasons are the deadliest. In 1992, Andrew was that year's first hurricane when it struck South Florida in August. To date, it is one of the costliest, most damaging natural disasters to strike the United States.

As part of an 18-year tradition, the village of Islamorada this week conducted a drill so that all 130 employees know his and her role in the event this summer and fall bring to an end the 10 years we've been lucky enough to swelter through hurricane-free seasons in the Keys.

Former Islamorada fire chief and now-consultant William Wagner III said the drills are important to learn to "bring order to chaos."

If not, "the incident is going to drive you instead of you driving the incident."

The idea that a tropical seaside community like Islamorada should be prepared for a hurricane is a given. But the village's short history of incorporation also holds a cautionary tale. In 2005, its Village Hall at Founders Park was washed away in Hurricane Wilma.

At the village's emergency operations center at Fire Station 20, Wagner, current Chief Terry Abel and other Fire-Rescue brass briefed staff members and department heads on what their duties will be to not only keep Islamorada functioning the best it can, but also to get it back up and running when the storm is over.

"It's going to be important to get back to pre-disaster conditions as fast as we can because there's going to be a lot of hurt out there," Wagner said.

Wagener and Abel also spoke about the importance of having a written plan of action, not only for preparation purposes, but also to show to the Federal Emergency Management Agency post-storm to be eligible for relief reimbursements.

Abel said the most noticeable thing to have changed since the 2005 -- when the Keys were not only impacted by Hurricane Wilma, but also Katrina and Rita -- is the widespread adoption of social media.

He said he expects a lot of official communication to be carried out on sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

"Social media is how things are being communicated now," Abel said. "During Tropical Storm Sandy, all radios went down and everything was coming through social media."

 

 

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