After suffering major damage from Hurricane Irma, counties told the newly-formed House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness that they are confident in their ability to handle disasters.
It seems they’re mainly concerned with reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)—something that might be a large focus for the new committee.
Representatives from Monroe County, which contains the Florida Keys that were devastated by Hurricane Irma, and Lee County, which also suffered a direct impact from the storm, told lawmakers how their counties fared and voiced concerns.
While each county had different qualms, both county representatives expressed uncertainty regarding FEMA reimbursements, specifically how long it would take for money to arrive and what the reimbursements would cover.
“There’s a big risk versus reward on those questions and FEMA can be a bit vague sometimes,” said Lee Mayfield, planning chief for Lee County Division of Emergency Management.
Michael Wanchick, county administrator for St. Johns County, brought with him a unique perspective, having a difficult experience awaiting FEMA reimbursements from Hurricane Matthew, which had a significant impact on St. Johns.
“I think the cash-flow situation that has been addressed is a serious one,” Wanchick said, explaining that FEMA’s process is very complicated with billions of dollars in play.
“It’s not that the process is broken; it’s the process,” he later said. He explained that there are many estimates filed, but FEMA has a fiduciary responsibility to thoroughly check each one.
Overall, the committee meeting was introductory. There weren’t any proposals to be heard: Lawmakers were essentially there to listen.
The State Emergency Response Team and the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation also gave presentations to the lawmakers. The latter reported an estimated $4.57 billion loss and a total of 703,671 claims.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, created the committee following Hurricane Irma. He provided a list of policy considerations centering on protection of elderly, disabled, and other vulnerable persons; efficient evacuation and reentry; and mitigation of future storm damage.
The committee is set to reconvene Thursday, Oct. 26.