Re-Open Florida: Industry working group mulls hurricane complications

Face Medical Surgical White Mask with COVID-19 inscription lying on Florida State Flag. Coronavirus in Florida
Hurricane response could be exacerbated by coronavirus precautions.

How will Florida and its industry handle a hurricane if the coronavirus crisis still is demanding social distancing and is making supplies and outside help hard to attract?

It’s not going to be easy, and could require some unique strategies if Florida is hit with hurricanes this summer, Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz said in the third and final meeting of Gov. Ron DeSantis‘s Re-Open Florida Task Force Industry Working Group on Administrative, Education, Information & Technology, Manufacturing, Utilities and Wholesale Friday.

The unique demands of the coronavirus crisis are forcing emergency management officials to consider stay-at-home orders instead of evacuating people in a storm’s path, he told the group. If evacuations are required, individual Uber vehicles might be better than crowded buses. Hotels might be better than usual evacuation centers.

And in advance, the state intends to fill a warehouse with emergency masks and other personal protective equipment, along with additional generators and other equipment.

“We have to make sure we have the supplies in advance of hurricane season,” he said.

Moskowitz recommended that businesses similarly plan for the unique challenges of a hurricane during a coronavirus crisis and set aside disaster supplies.

The topic wasn’t entirely within the narrow scope of reopening Florida’s business sector, the focus of much of the previous two days’ discussions.

Yet Moskowitz reminded the group the potential for hurricanes is always a part of Florida living, and so, he said, it needs to be rolled into any plans, starting with the prospects of tropical storms as early as late May or early June. That would put the state in the middle of dueling crises.

Even as late as August or later, hurricanes could complicate coronavirus recovery, and the coronavirus crisis certainly would complicate hurricane preparation and recovery, Moskowitz warned.

Later and stronger storms likely would require and allow more traditional storm preparation and response strategies, starting with the potential for mass evacuations. But earlier storms, especially lighter storms, could lead officials to try new strategies that emphasize social distancing.

“Do we even change the concept of evacuating at all?” he asked rhetorically.

Post storm response also would be complicated, he warned.

There’s a likelihood, he noted, that should Florida get hammered by a hurricane, the Sunshine State could not expect the same level of out-of-state support it has relied upon in recent storms and their aftermath. There won’t likely be long convoys of utilities trucks and volunteers streaming in from other states. Power could take longer to restore. Cleanup could take longer.

“That means obviously we’re going to have more requests to the federal government for equipment. We’re probably going to need to buy more generators in advance and put them in the warehouse,” he said.

“Additionally, we’re not going to see the same level of volunteers. How are we going to accommodate? Well, perhaps we turn to crazy solutions, like going to teachers, going to state employees, and turning to folks that might be unemployed… and employ them, to take on jobs in hurricane season to help us,” he continued. “Usually when we have a big event, you’re talking about 10,000 volunteers come forward. We just don’t believe we are going to see that.”

Much of the topic for the past three days, save Moskowitz’s presentation Friday and some brief comments along similar lines Thursday, focused on the health care, disinfection, and social distancing protocols, training, supplies, and contingencies that would have to be part of any school’s or business’s plans to reopen anytime soon.

The working group did not adopt any recommendations during its three meetings.

The 23 members, who represent education and industry, mostly just listened to a variety of presentations outlining challenges, asked a few questions, and offered a few ideas.

Working Group Chair Richard Corcoran, Florida’s education commissioner, told the group in closing Friday that he’ll take it from there.

“We’re done having detailed thorough conversation. But now it’s about putting that pen to paper, and coming up with a great product,” Corcoran said. “So everyone just be ready and we’ll keep you informed as we work through the weekend.”

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected].


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